Instead of fans clapping for the Duke players as they jogged onto the floor, Monday's practice at Fort Bragg featured a bit of a role reversal.
The Blue Devils halted their warm-ups, stood and applauded the several hundred army servicemen who marched into the gym single file to watch Duke practice.
The respectful gesture was fitting on a day that was as much about reconnecting with Mike Krzyzewski's Army past and giving back to the military as it was about preparing for the upcoming basketball season. Krzyzewski, a former West Point cadet, player and coach, told the army servicemen who filled the bleachers that it was an honor for his players to practice in front of "the best team in the world."
Practicing for 90 minutes in front of a national TV audience may have been the easiest part of the day for the Blue Devils.
They slept on bunk beds in the barracks Sunday night, woke up at 5:45 a.m. to march to physical training and completed a two-mile run and an eight-part obstacle course right after that. Most of the players' camouflage pants and "Mission First" t-shirts were still covered in mud from the obstacle course when they arrived at the physical fitness center on the base for practice.
Krzyzewski didn't participate in the obstacle course because of his surgically repaired hips, but other members of his staff did. They endured everything from scaling walls and cargo nets, to crawling through mud, to tests of strategic thinking.
Said forward Ryan Kelly to reporters on hand: "It was harder than I thought, and I have the blisters to show for it, but it's something I'll never forget.''
Part of the impetus for Duke's trip to Fort Bragg was an experience redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee had visiting Fort Benning this summer. A two-star general who played for Krzyzewski hosted Plumlee at the Georgia base and showed him around, leading Plumlee to suggest a team-wide trip to Krzyzewski.
Ironically, Plumlee was the one Duke player who couldn't participate Monday. The 7-footer will miss 6 to 8 weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot, he told ESPNU during the broadcast of Duke's practice.
"It was frustrating because myself in particular, I have a vested interest in the military and I'm very proud of the things they do," Plumlee said. "I was very much looking forward to being able to participate in this day. This boot is a setback, but hopefully I'll get better soon."
(Thanks, Justin D. Young)
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