Duke brings basketball to Fort Bragg

Duke practices in front of troops after early march, obstacle course

lkeeley@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2012 

— Captain Zatochi Mattocks grew up a Duke basketball fan and after the team’s practice at Fort Bragg Monday, his Blue Devils spirit was on display. Mattocks wore a Duke apron and carried a shopping bag with other Blue Devils mementos: stuffed animals, small basketballs, and the Sports Illustrated special edition commemorating Duke’s 2010 national championship. Zatochi had been keeping it safe in a freezer-sized plastic bag, but he had it out as he waited to meet Mike Krzyzewski.

“I’m just mesmerized,” Mattocks said. “I’m going to try to be a good officer when I talk to Coach K and not faint. It’s unbelievable.”

Mattocks was one of several hundred soldiers who waited after the hour and a half practice to meet Krzyzewski and the rest of the Blue Devils. The respect was mutual, as the team began practice by interrupting their stretching routine to stand and applaud as the troops filed into Funk Gym.

“They do so many great things that we can’t compare to,” power forward Ryan Kelly said. “It really makes you understand that basketball is a game. We do it pretty much for a living, but these guys are doing something much more important than we are. I love what I do, but I appreciate what they do more.”

Duke practiced in front of the troops, with the last 30 minutes featuring several shooting drills that included soldiers selected from the crowd. Earlier, Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Alex Murphy, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon – filling in for the injured Seth Curry – led the first team in controlled scrimmage and defense drills.

“Since you’re in the business of defense, we’ll show you ours,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said as he addressed the soldiers in the middle of practice.

For Krzyzewski, a former cadet at West Point who achieved the rank of captain, and assistant coach Jeff Capel, whose father was stationed at Fort Bragg while he was growing up, it was a return to their roots. The team and coaches came down to the post Sunday night and slept in the barracks after a team meeting. Their Monday wake-up call came at 5:45 a.m., and the Blue Devils marched to the PT field for physical training and a two-mile run.

“It’s been a bit tougher, which is good,” Krzyzewski said about the workout’s difficulty. I’ve heard grunts and groans. They were given orders, and I’m sure for some of them it’s the first time they’ve stood at attention or parade rests or right faces and left faces. They had a willing spirit. I’m real proud of our team. They attacked everything and were easy to instruct.”

For the Duke players, it was an opportunity to work on team bonding.

"We were down in the trenches working hard, running, exerting our energy, and in the drills we really had to have a bond, and it’s the same bond we have in practice," freshman Amile Jefferson said. "If a guy isn’t making his push-ups, can’t make it, getting tired, you’ve got to pick him up. It really brought us together as a team. Coach K wanted us to come here as young men and leave as men. I think we did that."

Breakfast followed, and then the Blue Devils were split in two groups for a leadership reaction course, a challenge Kelly said was mental and physical. The final task of the morning – the obstacle course – was the most strenuous. Afterwards, all of the Blue Devils were caked in dirt, and a few had blisters.

“It was harder than I expected,” Kelly said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

By the end of the practice, Duke had accomplished its mission.

“The military is the best team we have in our country,” Krzyzewski said. “Any time we can have any interaction with them, it’s a plus for us.”

Marshall Plumlee out: Duke redshirt freshman F Marshall Plumlee will miss 6-8 weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot, the team announced Monday. Plumlee was hurt in an informal practice last Wednesday. Plumlee sat on the sideline with a boot on his left foot and crutches nearby during the practice at Fort Bragg.

Keeley: 919-829-4556

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