x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Innocuous on the outside but lively inside

Second home Cameron Indoor Stadium does not look much like a basketball arena - in fact, it is nearly indistinguishable from its surroundings on campus.

Cameron Indoor Stadium does not look much like a basketball arena - in fact, it is nearly indistinguishable from its surroundings on campus. The building blends in with Duke's Gothic architecture and the sixth-storey office of coach Mike Krzyzewski creates a far more imposing shadow on the grassy lawn named in his honour than Cameron itself. But take one step inside and you are overcome with an almost spiritual attachment to Duke Basketball, which is why 9,314 fans - or more, depending on the leniency of the fire marshal - pack in for every game.

When I first stepped foot into Cameron, it was not for a game, but rather a talk with "Coach K" himself on what Duke Basketball and this stadium means to him, and how important it was for us to keep that tradition alive as students. This is because a great crowd can serve as a sixth man. And the Cameron Crazies affect the outcome of a game. Ask any reporter whose suit got ruined from the blue paint of a sweaty fan behind press row. Ask Greivis Vasquez, who claims to love playing at Cameron more than anywhere else, yet found himself shouting obscenities in Spanish at the crowd during his last visit. Or just ask Dick Vitale, nearly 70 years old but still drawn to the nerdy fanaticism of the Crazies.

This is because the deafening roar in Cameron gives Gerald Henderson extra life. The sight of 1,200-plus students dancing to Cascada's Every Time We Touch does light a fire under Nolan Smith. And we get inside the heads of our opponents, from warm-ups all the way until the sound of the final horn. Playing at Cameron is the toughest road game in college basketball. It does not matter that the stadium does not look like one. You cannot match our craziness anywhere else.

Merchant is sports managing editor of The Chronicle www.dukechroniclesports.com