NEW YORK -- The Duke men's basketball teams cultural tour took the Blue Devils through some of the most historic venues in Harlem Monday. From a morning stop at famed Rucker Park to lunch at Sylvia's and on to the Apollo Theatre the Blue Devils and head coach Mike Krzyzewski were greeted by surprised and supportive locals.
Following another informative bus tour through New York, the Blue Devils arrived at Rucker Park to take some shots, talk to locals and pass out some leftover Duke shoes and apparel. The excited Blue Devils bounded off the bus for a chance to spend some time on the same court as some of the biggest names in New York City basketball, including Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Manigault, Lewis Alcinder, Rod Strickland, Julius Erving, Kenny Anderson and Chris Mullin.
"It was really cool to be at Rucker Park on the same court that so many great players got their start on," said senior Josh Hairston. "The fact that Coach K is allowing us to come out here and see historical New York is amazing. It has always been my dream to play at Rucker Park so just to even be able to get up some light jump shots was amazing. I wouldn't want to be here with anyone else other than my teammates and coaches."
The empty court sprung to life with locals venturing over from various angles to see Coach K and the Blue Devils. One of the first to arrive was a longtime Duke fan from Rocky Mount, N.C., who moved to Harlem a couple of years ago. He was shocked and speechless to see his favorite team in his new hometown.
The Duke travel party then moved up the street for a soul food lunch at Sylvia's, a legendary eatery on Malcolm X Boulevard. Several locals came over to meet the Duke players and staff as they entered the building. A young boy asked several of the players a series of questions, including what position they played, if they were good and do they wear Nike Elite socks.
Over lunch of fried chicken, potato salad, greens, ribs, cornbread and banana pudding an amusing scene took place as our host, a friendly and enthusiastic women of about 4 feet 5 inches asked Marshall Plumlee to pose for a picture with her. Hip to hip with her arm around his waist her smile could not have been more perfect. She was so excited about picture that she also asked for a small kiss on the cheek to make her day. Plumlee politely obliged the request to the delight of his Duke teammates and the rest of the staff at Sylvia's.
Next up was a short walk to legendary Apollo Theatre, where the team was treated by a tour and history lesson from Mr. Apollo himself, Billy Mitchell. The amazing experience also included a Duke talent show on stage at the Apollo as Semi Ojeleye, Matt Jones and Nick Pagliuca wowed their teammates with some surprisingly good vocals. Plumlee, Quinn Cook, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton also gave very good performances on the same stage that helped launch the careers of countless entertainers.
"It was a little scary at first because I didn't know what I was going to do," said freshman Matt Jones on taking the stage at the Apollo Theatre. "Then I went back to my routes of David Ruffin and the Temptations. Just being able to perform in front of your teammates is a great feeling. I have always prided myself on being a shower singer. Ever since I can remember I have been singing in the shower hoping one day I would get my big break. I guess that was it."
With a full day of tours and site seeing in the books, Duke crossed the river into the Garden state for an afternoon practice. While the Blue Devils' music at the Apollo was strong, the rhythms from the bounce of the basketball, squeak of the sneakers and constant communication on the court was even better during the two-hour session.
Be sure to check out the highlight video, brought to you by the Blue Devil Network, from the day as it is sure to feature a behind scenes look at Monday's Duke Elevate experience.
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