West Point, N.Y. -- I am not sure words can do justice to the Duke men's basketball team's day at West Point Saturday. With sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s, the Blue Devils spent the day absorbing the culture, organization and precision of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
The Blue Devils awoke for a 6 a.m. breakfast in order to get out to the hollowed grounds of West Point in time for the Cadet Parade at The Plain. On the way to the parade grounds, the bus took a small detour to swing by the former home of the Krzyzewski family. With Coach K at the front of the bus in conversation with the hosts for the day, there was an air of pride and confidence coming from the hall of fame coach and mentor.
The travel party received a terrific introduction and history lesson prior to the parade by U.S. military personnel, including a PA announcement welcoming the Duke basketball team to West Point and an ensuing round of applause from the large crowd in attendance. The Blue Devils learned the importance General George Washington placed on West Point in holding off the British, as well as how Thomas Jefferson chose to establish the area as the primary training ground for engineers and military leaders during his presidency. The wealth of knowledge and pride in the historical significance of West Point was evident throughout the day whether you were talking to a cadet, colonel, general or alum.
At 9 a.m. the gates opened on the far side of the parade grounds, and the cadets streamed onto the field of pristine grass. Duke players and staff were in awe of the discipline and precision of the cadets during the parade as well as the support from the thousands of viewers in attendance.
Following the parade, the Duke team gathered on the lawn for an inspiring talk with West Point superintendent General Robert L. Caslen. He spoke of the direct ties between Duke and West Point and how both units use communication, pride and discipline to reach the ultimate levels of success. The group also received another history lesson of how General Washington thwarted British advances up the Hudson River by stringing a massive chain across its banks. Although the first attempt resulted in the chain sinking immediately to the bottom of the river, Washington's forces accomplished their task on the second attempt. An interesting side note on the tactic was that the British ships would have actually gone right through the chain blockade without much damage to the ship. This was actually determined years later by cadets in the West Point engineering school.
Duke then ventured into the housing barracks where cadets were cooking out in preparation for Army's homecoming game against Eastern Michigan. In the dining hall, the team learned that roughly 4,500 cadets can be fed in unison in 26 minutes.
Next on the agenda was the combat simulation center - a combination of laser weaponry, carnival games and first-person military shooting. Lieutenant Colonel Kidd took the team through weapons safety training. Marshall Plumlee established himself as the team resident expert on military weapons, quickly naming both machine guns at the simulation. With 10 weapons lined up in front of a 25-foot-wide screen Duke players positioned themselves for the first simulation. From the first shot fired, Blue Devils squeezed off round after round in the roughly two-minute session. When it ended, Duke troops fired over 1,000 shots, though more than 900 missed targets.
The second time around, the team organized its plan of attack and doubled its accuracy and targets eliminated. Each time through Duke continued to improve its organization, communication and patience in much the same way it is required to do on the court. By the third simulation, this time in a field of combat with tanks and helicopters, Duke improved to 22 percent accuracy with 50 kills.
As the team continued to improve, new variables were introduced leading to a final scenario of combat in an urban environment with civilians and press on hand. Despite constant communication that was nearly as loud and almost as frequent as the gun shots, one civilian was taken out by Duke fire. By the end of the process it was easy to see how relatable the principles of communication, trust and leadership are between two significantly different events - combat and athletic competition.
With "Call of Duty - West Point Simulation" over, Duke headed to Christl Arena for practice. While the team changed for practice, Coach K spoke to the Army team and staff about how West Point helped shape and mold him as a player and as a person.
As would be expected after a day surrounded by crispness and precision, the Blue Devils had a strong and competitive practice of just under two hours. While some shots fell short and passes were deflected, Duke battled throughout the productive session.
Practice closed with a hard fought 10-minute Blue-White scrimmage. Andre Dawkins got hot early with three treys in staking the White squad to an early 17-5 lead. Blue made a late charge with strong defense and Rodney Hood, Matt Jones and Jabari Parker attacking the hoop. Hood hit a pair of free throws with 5.9 seconds left for the deciding points as Dawkins' runner at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and bounced out.
As Coach K posed for pictures and greeted Army players and staffers, the rest of the Blue Devils grabbed showers before the bus ride back to the city. On the way back, the team had sandwiches from Shade's, one of Krzyzewski's favorite delis. The early start, long day and hunger quenching food led to a quiet ride back to New York. A little rest and quiet time will be good as the Blue Devils continue the Duke Elevate trip tonight with Motown at the Lunt-Fontane Theatre.
Check out exclusive video coverage, brought to you by the Blue Devil Network, of the Duke Elevate trip at GoDuke.com. Photo galleries are also available dukeblueplanet.com.
You can also follow the trip on Twitter @Duke_MBB.