Coach K Academy Is Underway

DURHAM, N.C. - The sixth annual K Academy got underway Wednesday at the school's new basketball practice facility with 80 "campers" and 20 former Blue Devil players on hand for the popular fantasy camp.

"I had been going to the Michael Jordan camp in Las Vegas before I heard of the Coach K camp," third-time participant Mike Troy of Greenwich, Conn., said. "They're both fun, but the Jordan Camp was sort of like eating out in a fancy restaurant ... Coach K's camp is like eating a home-cooked meal."

Gary Munson, a former Cornell basketball player, also cited the family atmosphere at Duke as one of its attractions. The New York City resident indulges his passion for basketball at a number of fantasy camps. He also attends the Jordan Camp in Las Vegas and he's participated in camps sponsored by Rick Barry and Otis Birdsong.

This will be his fifth straight summer at Coach K's fantasy camp.

"This one's special because of the camaraderie of all the Duke guys," Munson said. "They all relate to one another. And they're all quality people."

This year's group of returnees include such players as Christian Laettner, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Mike Gminski, Mike Dunleavy, Mark Alarie, Chris Duhon, Billy King, Sean Dockery, Dahntay Jones, Chris Carrawell, Robert Brickey, Roshown McLeod, Kenny Dennard, Ricky Price, Shavlik Randolph and Quin Snyder, Marty Clark, Alaa Abdelnaby and Kenny Blakeney, plus current Duke assistant coaches Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and Nate James.

It also includes some new faces – including Gene Banks and Vince Taylor, who were teammates on Mike Krzyzewski's first Duke team in 1980-81.

"This is the first time I've seen Vince in 15 years," Banks said. "This is my first time here. Coach K and I met during the season and we talked about it. I thought it was a great idea and wanted to be a part of it. It's interesting that everywhere I go to speak, they were asking why I was never at the fantasy camp."

Banks, who manages a youth program in Greensboro, said he gets together frequently with such ex-teammates as Gminski and Dennard, but, although he's talked to former Duke players such as Taylor and Mark Alarie over the years, but hasn't had a chance to spend a lot of time with them.

"This is a chance to connect," he said. "Just looking at this facility – it's remarkable. I think a lot of guys feel that because of their sweat and toil that they are a part of this. That's one of the big keys that you feel a part of it. That's what K does – a good job of having the alumni being a great part of the program."

Taylor's coaching duties have kept him from attending the K Academy in the past, when it was usually held later in the summer. It was moved up this year because of Coach Krzyzewski's Olympic responsibilities and that gave the former All-ACC swingman, now an assistant for Tubby Smith at Minnesota, a chance to come back.

The presence of such accomplished former players is one of the attractions of the camp. Participants pay $10,000 each for the chance to sample the Duke basketball experience. The money goes to the Legacy Fund and to support the Emily Krzyzewski Center.

The focus of the camp is not just the games or even the chance to hobnob with the likes of Krzyzewski, Laettner, Banks and so many other former Blue Devil stars.

The Academy staff do their best to treat the campers as if they were Duke players for the long weekend. When they arrived at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday, a bevy of tents – a miniature Krzyzewskiville – were erected outside the arena. Inside, banners for past Academy champions and jersey/banners honoring past Academy stars were hoisted to the rafters. Last year, they did a media guide for the participants.

A P.A. announcer works all the games and afterwards, the coaches and a few star players are taken to the media room for interviews. After the championship is decided, there's a trophy ceremony, then the winning players cut down the nets.

Troy, a Wall Street trader, doesn't have any illusions about his skills.

"I may be small, but I'm slow," he said. But he points out that there are players who take basketball much more seriously.

"The games are very competitive and you've got some good players," he said.

Munson is one of those who takes the game seriously.

"I still play in over-60 senior tournaments," he said. "I like to think of myself as competitive. Every year, my role changes. I can't be competitive with a guy 6-5 and 37 years old and who knows how to play. But the way the draft works, you're on a team and they're all pretty level. No team has very many dominant players."

Troy isn't quite as concerned about winning. His goals?

"Being around, having fun, hanging out with some friends," he said.

The experience has turned him into a Duke basketball fan, even though he (like Munson) attended Cornell.

"I feel like part of the family, even though I didn't go to Duke," he said.

But is the experience worth $10,000?

"People ask me that all the time," Munson answered with a laugh. "The Jordan camp is more expensive. If you can afford it, I think it's a lot of value. I'm a Knicks season ticket holder -- $960 for four tickets 41 times a year – and I tell you this is a much better value than that."

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