This past weekend the Marist College Men’s Basketball team started off their season in a big way, traveling down to Durham to take on the legendary Duke University Blue Devils in the famed Cameron Indoor Arena as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Though some of the players tried to play it off as just a normal game, most simply just couldn’t contain their excitement.
“This is going to be a game we will certainly never forget,” said Marist senior forward Kentrall Brooks. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t totally pumped.”
Other Marist players, like sophomore forward Kristinn Palsson, never even fathomed the idea that they could have a chance to play Duke when they committed to Marist.
“Going down, experiencing an atmosphere that’s as unique as Duke’s will be a dream come true,” said Palsson. “It will definitely be a positive experience for the team, experiencing this together, remembering we were together for this momentous occasion.”
But Marist wasn’t just going down to Duke for the experience, they wanted to win, badly. On their last practice before taking off, the blaring sound of the Cameron Crazies, Duke’s loyal fanbase, was played over the loud system at McCann arena throughout Marist’s entire team scrimmage. The anticipation for the game only heightened after that.
“Being able to actually play Duke in Cameron Indoor is going to be insane, but we’re going to play them like any other team, it’ll be fun,” said Marist sophomore forward Isaiah Lamb. “I grew up in Maryland, where Duke was our rival, so I’ll definitely bring my dislike to the court.”
After practice ended, the coaching staff listed off an itinerary of what would happen before, during, and after the game. Most notably, the team would be flying charter to Durham, which would be the first time they would be doing so during head coach Mike Maker’s tenure at Marist.
“It’s exciting stuff. This is certainly a great opportunity for our team to take on a Duke program with a rich tradition and a Hall of Fame coach,” said Coach Maker.
But as Marist finished their last practice, 5th year senior guard Khallid Hart lead the team huddle, simply stating the words “No Excuses.” Marist knew it had business to take care of.
“We’re taking it like it’s any other game. We will go out there and do what we have to do,” said Hart.
The team would fly down to Duke the next day, joined by various members of the Marist athletics and academic staff, who certainly had their anxieties about the game.
“I’ve been to Duke twice before for the Marist Women’s team, it was certainly a great experience, especially since we were so close to beating them,” said Marist Men’s Basketball’s Sports Information Director Michael Ferraro. “But you could definitely say I’m nervous for the matchup, Duke is the number one team in the nation for a reason.”
Once Marist landed, they received a tour of the campus, and had plenty of time to practice on Duke’s home court, though practicing in a quiet Cameron Indoor wouldn’t be quite the same as playing an actual game in front of a packed house.
Other Marist students would also join the team, such as the student body President and Vice President, and the President of The Circle, Bernadette Hogan, who certainly realized that this trip up was for more than just a game.
“When Marist decided to take part in this game, they got criticized for elevating athletic prowess and program building at the expense of a group of people, a group of people present in our campus community,” said Hogan.
This of course, referring to the HB2 laws against transgender citizens passed earlier this year by North Carolina, which sadly is the reason why Marist had the opportunity to play in this game. But many of Marist’s LGBTQ community were brought along on the trip to let their opinions be heard. The team themselves also wore LGBTQ themed socks during the game to show their respect for the community.
The game was scheduled for a prime time 7 pm slot, Marist was greeted by a rowdy sold out arena of 15,000 Duke fans, with a small margin of Marist fans who made the 9 hour trip up. Marist had their warmups, opening ceremonies, and with the support of a wide array of current and former Marist students watching the game from all over, Marist took the court to show what they were made of.
Sadly, Marist was not quite able to challenge Duke, losing 94-49. But the experience certainly was not hindered by their performance on the court.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for the program, the players, and this institution. Really proud of how hard are players played tonight,” said Coach Maker.
Many other Marist players simply couldn’t be thankful enough for their opportunity, with many players tweeting about how great the experience was right after the game ended.
“We wanted the younger guys on the team to buy into our gameplan, so this game was certainly a good way to start that,” said Brooks.
Even those who didn’t participate in the game had a lot to take away from the few days they had at Duke.
“We were met by some great, intelligent students from Duke’s Athlete Ally Chapter that gave great perspective on the controversy from not only a general view, but from an athlete’s standpoint,” said Hogan.
From here, Marist will look to further its success as a program so that they can someday rank amongst the Duke’s as far as greatness at the college level.
“We’re trying to build something at Marist that Coach K has already built at Duke,” said Maker. “Our future is bright. Our hearts are in the right place. We have a lot of work to do to make our program something our fans in the Hudson Valley can be proud of.”