Duke's colourful basketballing history will make them a hit in UAE

Duke bring a strong tradition with them to Dubai for their friendly with the UAE.
Duke University are known for their strong and colourful support, who are known as the Cameron Crazies.
Duke University are known for their strong and colourful support, who are known as the Cameron Crazies.

Hey, what's this "Duke" thing I hear about coming through Dubai and playing the UAE basketball team?

Oh, that's a well-regarded American university in North Carolina founded in 1924 by the Duke family, which made a fortune in electricity and tobacco products, proving again that life seems an endless crosscurrent of good and bad.

The people stopping off in the UAE constitute the university's well-regarded men's basketball team.

Duke has, on balance, the best basketball programme across the last 25 years in American university sport, that popular pursuit both completely thrilling and monstrously corrupt, proving again that life seems an endless crosscurrent of good and bad.

Well, which is more famous, the university or the basketball team?

Try not to ask such things.

Would I like watching this team play?

Almost certainly. Through recent decades they have developed a reputation for abundantly talented individuals playing astute team basketball under the sagacious coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Would I like watching this team on their home court?

Almost certainly, unless you fret about inner-ear damage.

Even given the relative smallness among US arenas - or, wait, especially given its relative smallness - Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium (capacity 9,314) provides one of the foremost goose-bump experiences in American sport, the goose bumps at times, in size, Himalayan.

Would I like the fans?

In conversation, sure; as a group, maybe not.

Oh, you know, it's like any group that starts winning a lot; over the years it develops a sense of entitlement it cannot recognise in itself, and while many fans of Duke's fellow kingpins - North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Connecticut - also possess a sense of entitlement, it's widely held in the US that nobody can out-sense-of-entitlement Duke fans.

Some have demanded through the years that game officials forgo their black-and-white stripes for Duke shirts.

Really?

No, but almost.

How do I pronounce "Krzyzewski"?

The American-English pronunciation is "Coach K".

But you can spell it.

Without even looking! In America they give a special course to fledgling sportswriters, teaching the spelling.

What has this Coach K done in his career?

He has reached 11 of these big, bawdy, American creations they call "Final Fours," in which the last four teams in the big, bawdy, three-week NCAA Tournament determine one champion. Seven times, his Duke teams have reached the championship game.

Four times, they have won the championship, more than for any other active coach.

Yet still, he cites as his top moment Beijing 2008, when he coached the US team back to the gold medal and, in the eyes of many Americans, restored the world to its rightful order.

Is there anybody in the Duke travelling contingent I might recognise?

The UAE does have its share of NBA followers who might have seen on television one Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach whose son, Austin, begins his first year playing for Duke.

And with possibly no upcoming NBA season and with Doc Rivers one of the most gracious, decent people you could hope to run across, he might as well stay on over here with the expatriates and find a coaching gig.

What do you do when a sport is both "completely thrilling" and "monstrously corrupt?"

You do like most people faced with such a conundrum. Turn on the television and tune in!

Have you ever been to one of these US basketball foreign tours?

Oddly, yes. I went to a thing in Italy once where the University of Kentucky basketball team played before about 125 of its uncommonly ardent fans plus a few stragglers in, among other stops, Venice.

The gym there was so hot they opened the big doors at the back of it for ventilation, and within moments a gondolier carrying two Japanese tourists glided by and craned his neck to try to discern just what went on in that gym.

The immediate aftermath included no crashing sounds, and what relief.

Are these sports tours a good idea in general?

Sure. Sport provides an excellent mechanism for the beneficial mingling of cultures, and who knows, revealing the force of "college basketball" to foreign lands might coax the odd fan in Italy or China or the UAE or wherever into sitting up at nights watching this alluringly raucous stuff.

That, in turn, might expose them to the soap-operatic scandals of American college sport while also costing them sleep and costing their countries economic productivity. Good and bad, as ever.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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Published: August 25, 2011 04:00 AM

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