Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Columnist: The true sixth man

On December 29, I had an opportunity that most college basketball fans can only dream of: I was given the privilege of watching a Duke game from inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. As hard as a ticket to a Duke game is to come by, the ticket I had was even harder. I sat right next to superstar Jason Williams’ parents and directly behind the Blue Devils’ bench. In the second half, Duke managed to push their lead to a comfortable 20 points over visiting San Diego State. Even though the top-ranked team in the country never allowed San Diego State to give them a game, the “Cameron Crazies,” as the Duke fans have been dubbed, never let up.

The emotions among the fans were such that would have made you think that Duke was playing a conference game. Every Duke basket would prompt frantic cheering, while the whir of every whistle spurred the “crazies” to match the intensity which was displayed in the play on the court preceding the whistle. As the game wore on, I couldn’t help but think how special this place is. I was experiencing something that night that I was certain I would never experience again.

On Jan. 12, the men’s basketball team traveled to Amherst in hopes of ending a four-game losing streak to the Lord Jeffs. With two minutes left in overtime and a five-point lead, we thought we had the game won, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. That loss was extremely disappointing for a variety of reasons, the most glaring of which was the fact that we lost to Amherst and shouldn’t have. We knew we were the better team, and, fortunately, we had a chance to prove that six days later when Amherst came to Williamstown.

There are few experiences in life that will always be remembered. Friday, Jan. 18, 2002 was one of those experiences. Leaving Duke’s campus after the San Diego State game, I had a feeling that I thought would never be reproduced.

I was wrong. That same feeling came rushing over me at 7:40 p.m. last Friday evening when I took the floor for pre-game warm-ups and it stuck with me throughout the night. The fans, led by the multi-talented boys of Gladden House’s first and third floors, picked us up from the very beginning, creating an atmosphere where it was impossible for an opposing team to thrive. Even though we had lost the week before, there was never any doubt that we would go on to win this game because of the environment the fans created.

The fan support played an extremely large role in building our lead in the first half, and the continuing support led to the second half blowout. Even when the gap in the score reached 30 points there was no letdown. Just as there was no sense of accomplishment among the Blue Devils faithful when Duke went up by 20, neither was there any lapse among the fans in Chandler gymnasium. You guys kept pouring it on until the final horn sounded. Each and every one of you could have left early and rushed over to Perry House so you could be first in line for “Vance’s Slamherst Blowout,” but you didn’t, and we noticed.

Friday was a very special night that led to many special things. For starters, it signaled coach Dave Paulsen’s first victory over the Lord Jeffs after four tries. Secondly, it ended our four-game losing streak. Finally, it meant that we would be tied for first place in the NESCAC. It was all made possible by the fans, which allowed us to play with six players for the full 40 minutes. We beat Amherst, and by that I mean Williams beat Amherst, not just the men’s basketball team.

Friday night was a moment that I will always remember and keep with me. Thirty years from now, I will point to that night as proof that this is the most special place in the country to go to school.

That night was not about whether we won or lost the game, but how we did it: with the support of the entire student body, with cohesiveness unparalleled by any other institution for the entire game. The camaraderie exhibited Friday night was proof enough that I made the right choice of college. You guys were the true Sixth Man. Thank you.

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