By John Roth, GoDuke The Magazine
DURHAM, N.C. -- The Duke women’s basketball team will play in Madison Square Garden next season, facing off against St. John’s in the annual Maggie Dixon Classic on Dec. 9. The contest offers the Blue Devils solid exposure in a worthwhile event at an historic arena — and it affords one of Duke’s top veteran players, Haley Peters, the opportunity to play near her home of Red Bank, N.J.
Such homecoming games are commonplace in college athletics. Three years ago Duke opened the season at Houston Baptist so Karima Christmas could show the Blue Devils her hometown. Duke is playing in a tournament at Southern Cal next season so Chelsea Gray and Chloe Wells can perform in their native state. The following year, the Devils will take another trip west to play at Cal during Gray’s senior year and head to Oklahoma to give Richa Jackson a home game.
Coach Joanne P. McCallie and her assistants talk about trying to schedule homecomings when they are recruiting players, and usually they find a way to work it out. Every once in while, though, that takes a little extra time.
“I guess it was a little more complicated in my case,” laughs Allison Vernerey, the Blue Devils’ lone rising senior for 2012-13.
Vernerey hails from Mulhouse, a town in the Alsace region of northeastern France, near the Swiss and German borders. Over 4,000 miles away from the Triangle area, there is no exit for Mulhouse on the road to the Final Four or within any other geographical footprint the Blue Devils could realistically visit during the course of the basketball season.
So Duke is giving Vernerey her homecoming game this summer, on the eve of her final college campaign.
McCallie is taking the Blue Devils on an overseas trip to France and Italy, with most of the trip slated for Vernerey’s home country. The team will be in Europe from Aug. 13-22 and play three exhibition games while touring Paris and Vernerey’s hometown. The timing of the trip will permit Duke’s incoming freshmen to participate, as it takes place in between summer school and the start of the fall semester. McCallie will be able to practice the Devils 10 times prior to departure.
“It seems like we have been talking about it forever, since I committed to Duke,” Vernerey said. “Now that it’s getting close, I’m really excited about it. I’ve had a chance to give some input about what we will be doing. We will be in Paris and will also go to our house, and my dad is excited to have the team over.
“It’s just going to be nice for once to be the one who knows what’s happening, who knows the language and everything. It will be nice.”
Basketball Travelers Inc. is working with Duke to organize the trip. The itinerary is almost finalized, but Vernerey hopes that a few of her favorite museums, restaurants and a cabaret show in Paris are included.
“And I’m excited about going to my house, so they can see how it is,” she said. “I think it is going to be a big experience for everyone, because most of them have never traveled to Europe.”
Vernerey, on the other hand, has traveled extensively throughout Europe, frequently for basketball. In 2006 and 2007, she played for France in the Under-16 European Championships in Slovakia and Latvia. She captained the ’07 team that won the title, ending Spain’s three-year reign. In 2008 and 2009, Vernerey moved up to the U-18 European Championships in Slovakia and Sweden, helping France place fourth in ‘08. During the summer of ‘09, prior to enrolling at Duke, she also played for France in the U-19 World Championships in Thailand.
But the 6-foot-5 center hasn’t made it back to France very often the past two years. She went home both last May and this May for a couple of weeks following the spring semester and enjoyed a four-day visit this past Christmas, but that’s been about it lately.
“It is hard and I miss my family,” said Vernerey, who has one older sister living in Paris and one younger sister living with her father in Mulhouse. “They have been to visit a couple of times. My sister and dad have come here. I just had to get used to (being away), it was my decision.”
Vernerey’s plate will be full this summer prior to her homecoming adventure. Along with joining her teammates and strength coach Will Stephens for weightlifting and conditioning, the economics major will be taking summer school classes and playing pickup ball. Also, for the second straight summer, she will be working with the Duke Cancer Institute, an association that has developed into an important part of her college experience.
“Last year I was looking for something to do in the summer,” Vernerey said. “We don’t always get a chance to look outside and see what we can do to help and give back a little bit, and that’s what I was looking for. It happened that Coach P was the (spokesperson) of the Strike Out Cancer campaign, so that was a good connection for me. I met some other great people and it all worked out.”
Vernerey started a campus organization called Blue Devils vs. Cancer and has been an active fundraiser. One of her projects, a dessert tasting event in Durham last winter, brought in over $7,000. This summer she hopes to broaden the scope of her involvement with some exposure to the management and financial sides of the Cancer Institute — while also preparing for her senior year.
“It feels like I’ve been here for a while and my life is pretty settled here and all that, but at the same time it has gone really fast,” she said. “I’m just really excited. It’s going to be fun. There’s a lot to look forward to and I think we’ll have a good season. And in school it’s also an exciting time when you are almost done, so it’s nice.”