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Up in the Air
Wednesday 04/01/2010  -  Michael Tomko, GoDuke.com
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Courtesy: Duke Photography
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Lucas Oil Stadium

INDIANAPOLIS - Nolan Smith saw it first. The sight sent chills through his body. The same chills he experiences every time he puts on his Duke jersey.

Soaring high in the air on the team plane Wednesday night just as the sun was preparing to set, Smith peered out his window and saw Lucas Oil Stadium as the Blue Devils' plane was preparing to land.

At that moment the Final Four became a reality for Smith.

"I have great vision," the junior guard joked.

Jordan Davidson, sitting in the seat in front of him on the plane, couldn't see the home of the 2010 Final Four.

"I had to tell him," Smith said. "I said 'that's where we're playing'. I started to smile; we are about to land here for the Final Four. It hit me then. I was very excited. I was ready for the plane to land."

Once on the ground, the Blue Devils took their seats on the team bus to head their hotel.

As the bus headed toward the hotel where Duke will call home for the next several days, the Blue Devils drove right pass Lucas Oil Stadium.

A spotlight highlighted a banner draped on the building with the four logos of the remaining teams.

Now, it wasn't just Smith who was able to catch view of the approximately 70,000 seat stadium where the Blue Devils have dreamt about finishing their season all year long.

"When we saw that I was like 'we're here'," senior Lance Thomas said.

"Just driving past that building last night and seeing the spotlight on it with our logo on it, I don't know, it sent like a chill through my body," Thomas added. "I was ready to play once I saw that."

Duke is one of the four remaining teams that have the exclusive honor of still playing basketball this weekend but will have to wait until Saturday night for their moment against West Virginia.

"We started out wondering whether we could get past the first two rounds and now here we are, one of the four teams remaining playing in this Tournament," Thomas said.

For seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Thomas, it felt as if, maybe, this moment would never happen.

"I wondered if we would get here," Thomas said. "Especially since this is my last chance to get here. We had a good year. We had good year's the last couple of years with high win seasons, but when this Tournament comes around we found a way to get knocked off easily."

A first round NCAA Tournament loss in 2006-07, a second round NCAA Tournament loss in 2007-08 and a Sweet 16 loss last season has shaped the current crop of senior Blue Devils. All of their peaks and valleys have brought them to Indianapolis this weekend.

"Being at this point and being able to look back, I don't know if I would be here without those moments, especially my freshman year," Scheyer said. "I think that is one of the reasons, especially Lance, Brian and along with myself, feel we are really tough players because of that year and tough minded and that year had a lot to do with it."

Their toughness has pushed them along through each round of the NCAA Tournament this season, first knocking off Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then California, then Purdue and then Baylor in the Elite Eight.

The seniors know first-hand that Final Four's don't grow on trees. It may happen just once during your playing career, so everyone will be playing like it's their last game at Duke ever.

"One of the things we try to talk about with the younger guys is hopefully they have the same attitude, that they feel like this is their last opportunity too, even though it might not be," Scheyer said. "There are no guarantees anyone is getting back here."

The seniors are not letting anyone be satisfied with simply reaching the Final Four.

"I was very excited to see that [stadium]," Thomas said. "But again, we are here on a mission though. Our logo wouldn't have been on that building if we didn't take care of business."

Another NCAA banner lines the streets in Indianapolis.

It reads, 'The Road Ends Here'.

For the seniors it really does.

"We want to be that one team at the end whose logo's there," Thomas said.

And when Duke takes back to the sky to go home, they want to be in the air and see their logo shining bright down below.


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