Eric Seidel attended his second K Academy this year and shared his thoughts with DBP on his experience…
This year’s K Academy kicked off May 30th, achieving its tenth anniversary and the largest camp to date. The camp registered a full roster of 80 players, eight player-coaches, over 30 former Duke Basketball players and one living legend, Coach K.
After the former Duke players were introduced and last year’s team received their championship watches, the group adjourned to the K Center for stretching and warm-ups with Coach Will. All of the players were broken down into teams to play two 10-minute games for evaluation by the former Duke players-turned-coaches.
That night, after retiring a few K Academy player jerseys, Coach discussed the success of the Academy over the past 10 years and how it has assisted in the development of the K Center and the Emily K Center. The evening’s festivities concluded with cocktails and dinner on the floor of Cameron Indoor. By night’s end, eight team rosters were chosen to compete to be this year’s K Academy champs. I was selected by Team San Antonio, where I would be coached by Kyrie Irving, Chris Spatola, Danny Meagher, and Mike Gminski — the NBA ROY, one of the Patriot League’s all-time best players, a member of Coach K’s first Duke NCAA Tournament team and a Duke jersey retiree. Not bad!
The second day commenced with our first team practice. At this point you realize that while this may be a fantasy camp, the coaches want to win! Friendships are forged as plays, sets and strategies are taught. Before you know it, you are at center court in Cameron waiting for tip off. This is when your fantasy becomes reality! Each team plays a morning and an afternoon game. Thursday evening’s dinner and festivities were held at the Duke Gardens with K Academy senior player videos shown at the conclusion of dinner.
Friday morning was special because Coach had a discussion with the group before the games tipped off. The Hall of Famer reminded us that we are at a fantasy camp and although it is extremely competitive in nature, we should enjoy ourselves and don’t hesitate if we have an open look on the court. I ended up firing several 3′s because of this advice and made a few throughout the week. After encouraging us to fire away and shoot our shots, Coach had three guest speakers with him to teach us about bonding and being a cohesive team — Duke greats Trajan Langdon, Lance Thomas and Kyrie.
By the third day of the camp, teams were taking shape and players started to get comfortable in their positions on their respective teams. Each team played two games on Friday and camp began to take its toll on more players as athletic trainers Jose, Nick, Summer and Justin worked non-stop in the training room. Team bonding continued as each group sat together for dinner at the University Club and later announced their selections to the first K Academy All-Star game. My team was off to a solid start, winning three of our first four games.
The next morning, Coach began the day with a comprehensive discussion about the USA Olympic team and the players on the roster at this point. After that, each K Academy team played one game on Saturday before the first-ever all-star game between the best K Academy players and the former Duke players (best idea ever!!). The K Academy team played well but fell to the former Duke squad that featured a number of former stars. It was truly an amazing sight to see the former Duke players back on the floor at Cameron again.
Saturday evening’s activities included a dinner and auction in support of the Emily K Center. The Center helps lower income students achieve their potential in school and assists them in gaining acceptance into college. The evening took a surprise detour with a roast of Coach K led by Wojo and several former players. (Disclaimer: what happened at the roast stays at the roast. All I can divulge is if you ever see Wojo appearing at the DPAC or a comedy club, you should buy tickets). Once the laughter stopped, Jesse Itzler led an auction which has raised millions over the years for the Emily K Center and again was very successful.
The final day of K Academy was a single-elimination tournament in which teams were seeded based on their previous record. After five straight days of basketball, even the best and most fit players were wearing down. The games were not always high scoring affairs and most were contested exclusively below the rim, but all participants gave it their best. At the end of the day, Chris Carawell’s team was victorious and K Academy X Champions. Unfortunately, my squad fell in the “Elite Eight” to the eventual champs.
K Academy players attended for a variety of reasons as the camp included Duke alums, Iron Duke members, Coach K fans, college basketball aficionados and businessmen who like to hoop in style. This was my “sophomore” season at K Academy, although I could technically be considered a red-shirt freshman. Last year at the end of my first five minutes of play the first day, I tore my ACL and was sidelined the rest of the camp. I remained at camp cheering on my team and made it my goal to get healthy and attend K Academy X. I may not have been at full ability, but I played hard for five days just 10-and-a-half months after surgery. There is no greater feeling than to play in Cameron Indoor, drain a three-point shot and have the NBA Rookie of the Year come on the court give you a “high five.” In addition to specializing in team morale boosting, Coach Kyrie also specialized in “communicating” with the officials.
The entire camp from start to finish places you in the middle of Duke Basketball. You meet, interact with and are coached by the former players. You are driven around to the events by the team managers and current basketball players, get to have film sessions in the team locker room, and if you’re lucky enough, you may receive treatment from some of the best trainers in the business. The skill level of the players span the spectrum from semi-pro to novice, but everyone has fun and competes hard. The friendships you build, the lessons you learn, and the interactions you have with Coach K and his former players are priceless.