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A Trip Inside the Duke Locker Room

A report on Coach K’s brief and unexpected return

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

As any well-connected ACC blog should, we at Blogger So Dear were fortunate enough to have a source in the Duke locker room yesterday as practice was wrapping up. The team was about to depart the facility for class and study hall. You won’t believe what happened next.

Editor’s Note: As we are a wholesome blog, most of the inappropriate language actually recorded has been toned down and/or removed from the quotes. Any remaining inappropriate language in the article was left because we felt removal would detract from the intent of the original speaker.

The final hard practice of the week was in the books in Durham, with only some light drills, a shoot around, and game preparation remaining before the bus departed for Winston-Salem prior to Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. Fresh off a stunning home loss at the hands of in-state rival N.C. State, the Duke Blue Devils and interim head coach Jeff Capel had been raked over the coals by both local and national media and were suddenly staring at a daunting road test against a top 40 team in the Demon Deacons and a potential 3-5 start to ACC play.

“Solid practice, solid work guys,” Capel told his players as they mingled around the locker room, getting changed, gathering their belongings, and preparing to pack it in for a night of studying. A couple players had tutoring sessions, a few more had mandatory study hall, but everyone had at least some school work to do as the sun began to set in its typically early fashion on a late January day.

“What I want to see on Saturday is heart. I want each and every one of you to think about what it means to be a Duke basketball player, what it means to play for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the one on the back, and how to best fulfill your role on this team. Let’s get some coursework done, let’s get some sleep, and let’s go get a win on Saturday. On the count of three – one, two, three, DUKE!”

Despite the recent on-court struggles, the mood around the facility was lighthearted. The guys knew that they weren’t having a great year by traditional Duke expectations and had struggled with the national spotlight constantly focused on them. From the hype surrounding freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, and Marquis Bolden; to the Grayson Allen controversies; to the decision of Coach K to have mid-season back surgery – it had been a tough year by any accounts.

Suddenly, the mood shifted. It wasn’t a gradual slide from a joking mood, to a general malaise, to a frustrated feeling, finally resulting in a gloom about the locker room, but rather a stark and immediate drop akin to the distinction between a bright, warm summer’s day and a dark, frigid night with a new moon. Everyone knew – He was near.

The players’ chatter stopped, a couple coaches discussing dinner plans immediately ceased, and it was as if a swarm of Dementors descended abruptly at once upon the basketball facility. Allen, already showered and dressed, was headed to the exit when he saw Him through the glass door. Allen paused, hoping he could skate out before he was noticed, but He pointed at Allen before barking, loud enough for everyone in the locker room to hear, “and just where in the hell do you think you’re going Allen?” Allen immediately cowered, much like a young puppy yelled at for again jumping up on the table. Frozen in fear, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to take his backpack off, leave it on, or try and open it and crawl inside without ever being seen again.

There he was: Coach K.

He hobbled slowly down the hallway but with intent, moving gingerly due to his recent surgery, past the picture of Nick Saban holding the CFP trophy, past the image of Tony Romo and Jerry Jones laughing it up at a Duke game, past the graphic of the Yankees’ 27 World Series trophies, and, of course, past a recent addition, a candid picture of Lebron James rocking an NBA Champions hat following their 2016 title.

“Everyone, sit your ass down,” Coach K ordered as he reached the door and tossed it open. A couple players naively looked to Capel, perhaps hoping that the interim coach would defuse the situation or offer some sort of alternative option. Capel did not return their glances, choosing instead to stare squarely at a loose tile on the floor.

“Allen, did you think you were getting out of here quickly? Have some big decisions to make later tonight – Prague or Budapest for your next big trip? Shrooms or acid? Bryant Crawford or John Collins?” Coach K quickly lashed out. He let those two Wake names linger in the air long enough for, at least this journalist to wonder, if this was an endorsement of strategy, a direct and vicious attack on Allen, or perhaps (most likely) both.

“And, what in the name of Me is this?” K demanded, pointing to his left above a gap between the locker of Giles and Tatum. It was difficult to make out from across the room what exactly he was asking about, but it became evident almost immediately. “Harry, why don’t you take that down and read it out loud to the rest of the room? Start from the top.”

“Uh….” Harry started, but seemed to be weighing his options rather than strictly following instructions. “It’s nothing coach,” as he took down the list and started to crumple it up.

“No Harry, I insist. Why don’t you stand up too Jayson.” Jayson immediately rose.

Giles straightened out the list and began: “Number one, Markelle Fultz…number two, Lonzo Ball…you know what Coach, it’s no big deal I’ll just throw this...”

“KEEP GOING,” K demanded.

Giles complied and continued reading out names, and after several seconds reached, “number five…Jayson Tatum.”

“Excellent Harry thank you, now why don’t you keep going down a few more spots,” K continued, with a heavy and sardonic emphasis on keep going down, “…until you get to your name.”

“And…uh…number seventeen, Harry Giles,” Giles provided in a short and quiet manner.

“Thank you, very well done. DraftExpress truly is must-read on a nightly basis isn’t it now? It’s good to see you two have your priorities straight. Why don’t you two take a seat.”

Giles and Tatum quickly sat down - Giles clasped his hands, and stared at the floor – perhaps even the same spot Capel was looking at earlier, while Tatum simply gazed in K’s general direction.

“Gentlemen - if I’m even comfortable using that as a descriptor,” Coach K started, “I saw the game on Monday night.” He paused for a few seconds and then slowly raised his hands up and began clapping, quite sarcastically, in rhythm. “You all know how much I enjoy watching Duke lose at Cameron don’t you? It really makes my week. Especially when it’s to a team with a coach who would take Michael Jordan and make him look like Chase over there” pointing in the general direction of sophomore Chase Jeter.

“I’m truly interested to hear about Allen’s most recent vacation plans, or perhaps I’m wondering if he already left since he sure as hell wasn’t around on Monday.” Allen, fresh off a 1-9 shooting performance from outside, did not seem to be thrilled with Coach K’s assessment. “Jayson and Harry at least pretended to show up for that one, Allen, even though that list makes me wonder if they’re more interested in showing up for practice and games, or showing up to the NBA Draft in a few months,” K went on.

“And you…” K suddenly barked as he pivoted and glared directly at Capel, who had traded in his blank stare at the floor for a blank stare at the spot above Coach K’s head on the far wall. “You don’t think I had back surgery in the middle of the season for you to take this roster and just throw it in the trash did you? I’ll tell you what Jeff, I sure as hell didn’t leave it for you to lose three of the last four games. I’m not taking these losses,” he paused briefly, “you are,” as he pointed directly at Capel, maintaining eye contact. “I’ll make damn sure of that, in fact, I’ve already made my intent clear to the NCAA on this matter.”

“You want to know a fun fact, Jeff?” Coach K inquired. “Duke is winless on the road this year. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is? Here I thought, silly old me, that I had promoted Jeff Capel to be head coach and instead who did we get? Apparently Jeff Bzdelik.” He let that last comment hang in the air, several coaches simply shook their heads in disgust. Capel didn’t even move.

“I’ve been doing some thinking guys – it’s such a big embarrassment to me and this program, that I’m not even comfortable letting you guys represent Duke basketball.”

At this point, it wasn’t entirely certain what Coach K even intended. Was he going to kick some guys off the team? Was he going to let Patrick Davidson return to hack John Collins twice in the first 60 seconds of the game? Was he going to retire, and require that the Duke basketball program fold with him?

He didn’t take long to explain, exactly, what he meant. “Everything you guys have with a Duke logo, a Duke name, a Duke reference, hell any word that has Duke in it – yeah I’m talking to you walk-on nerds taking the History of World War I and the textbook with Archduke Ferdinand in it – is gone. Take it off now, throw it in a pile in the center of the floor.”

Nobody moved, nobody wanted to be the first to take off their Duke gear fearing it was perhaps a test to see who was ready to shed their Duke identity first.

“I SAID NOW.” Coach K screamed, his nasally voice bouncing off the walls of the locker room.

Everyone moved at once, stripping down into their boxers, tossing their bookbags with the logo in the middle of the floor, even one history textbook actually did get tossed in.

“Now that is more like it. I feel better already about this program.” K stated, his voice returning to its normal piercing and shrill conversation level. “You go out there on Saturday and you kick Wake’s ass. If you don’t, don’t even bother getting on the bus back to Durham – just start walking down 40 and hope someone bothers to give you a lift once you’re on the highway.”

He turned and started to exit through the same door he entered just minutes earlier, but had felt like decades.

“Oh and one more thing – you’re all banned from the locker room indefinitely. Get out of here and don’t even think about coming back until I say so.”

At this, the players collectively gasped. This was THEIR area. This was THEIR retreat. This was where they came to get away from the rigors of college and be together, as one, as a team, as Duke basketball.

That is, everyone gasped but Grayson Allen, who shrugged and lightly whispered “Alright!” as he pumped his left fist.

Everyone stopped, turned, and stared at Allen. It was as if Coach K couldn’t believe what he heard. Capel just looked at Grayson, slowly shaking his head, as a disappointed onlooker who knew that the hammer was about to be dropped on this poor soul.

“Do you have something you’d like to share with the team Allen?” Coach K hissed, barely containing his rage.

“I mean…coach…sir….I mean…” Allen stammered. “It’s just….I thought the ban was going to be much longer than this. It sounded so serious. You said indefinitely, so we’ll be back in here, what, after we play at Wake – I mean, after all, that’s just one game.”

Coach K stood frozen, mouth agape, slowly working his tongue around the inside of his lips, clearly contemplating what to say next. However, for once, he was speechless. He merely shook his head, pivoted, and threw the door open – leaving - without saying another word.

As quickly as it left when Coach K entered, Capel’s spine grew back in a scientific marvel worthy of Nature magazine and he meekly called out “okay guys… how about that game on Saturday!”

Editor’s Note: This is clearly satire. If you got this far and thought this was real, you should Delete Your Account.