Ailing Jeff Capel Jr. joins son, Duke staff on bench

Duke's Jeff Capel III and his father Jeff Capel Jr. leave the court after the game against Wake Forest.
Duke's Jeff Capel III and his father Jeff Capel Jr. leave the court after the game against Wake Forest. The Herald-Sun

Duke made room on its bench for an extra seat on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Retired coach Jeff Capel Jr., who is stricken with ALS, sat next to his son, Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel III, on Duke’s bench as the Blue Devils beat Wake Forest 99-94.

The elder Capel, 64, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease by doctors at Duke Hospital last March. A longtime coach, Capel started his coaching career as an assistant at Wake Forest before a stint as head coach at Old Dominion (1994-2001) that included a pair of NCAA tournament appearances.

Jeff Capel Jr. was also head coach for one season at N.C. A&T and four seasons at Division II Fayetteville State as well as coaching as an assistant coach in the NBA with Charlotte (2004-11) and Philadelphia (2011-13).

Jeff Capel III revealed his father’s condition in a first-person story written on The Players Tribune website last month. In it, he wrote that the disease “continues to progress” but that “we are fighting – always fighting.”

The Wake Forest game is Duke’s penultimate home game of the season, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was the right time to invite the elder Capel to join the staff for a day.

“I didn’t want to do it in our last home game because of the seniors,” Krzyzewski said. “The Capel family has been amazing for us. They are part of our family, but really for the state of North Carolina the Capel family has been astronomical.”

Krzyzewski approached the younger Capel, a former Duke player who has been an assistant at the school since 2011, on Thursday with the idea. Jeff Capel III sent word to his dad, who said he was up for it, and Krzyzewski texted him with an official invitation.

“It’s better for us to text,” Krzyzewski said. “He wanted to text, and he was excited. He even used emojis, which shocked Jeff. It was special.”

So Capel Jr., stood with Duke’s coaches during pregame and the national anthem. He took his seat on the bench between assistant coach Nate James and his son. Krzyzewski sat one seat down with assistant coach Jon Scheyer on his left.

“I didn’t realize how good it would feel to see father and son on the bench,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a great moment. Not a good moment, it’s a big-time moment. I’m glad he was able to be with us.”

After the No. 12 Blue Devils survived to win their seventh game in a row, the team awarded the elder Capel the game ball in the postgame locker room.

“I’m glad that that happened,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m really glad that that happened.”