The K Academy is “America’s #1 College Basketball Fantasy Camp.” Tuition is $10,000 and there is limited enrollment as campers must be 35 years of age or older.
I had the opportunity to attend the K Academy last year on the final day, which was Sunday. It was the day the academy starts its playoff games in the morning and concludes with the championship game in the afternoon.
The players began training and preparing with the coaches on Wednesday to prepare for the games on Sunday.
As I walked up to Cameron Indoor Stadium, I didn’t know what to expect. But as I started to walk past Krzyzewskiville, it occurred to me that this is no ordinary fantasy basketball camp.
Krzyzewskiville, which is normally occupied with tents by Duke students in the months of January and February camping out for the UNC game, was alive once again.
Some of the K Academy campers had their own tents set up with catchphrases associated with Duke Basketball in Krzyzewskiville.
I walked inside Cameron Indoor Stadium and past the concession stands to see a life size list of the teams and players on each team.
I then walked out on Coach K court and quickly realized this is a fantasy basketball camp on the biggest stage.
Hanging in the rafters near the Duke Final Four banners were the names of campers at the K Academy.
I looked behind one of the basketball goals and under the “Mike Krzyzewski NCAA Division I Most Career Victories” sign were four more campers’ jerseys.
Rachel Curtis, who works for the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund, informed me that jerseys that hang below the Coach K banner are the K Academy retired jersey banners. They are for K Academy campers who have been to the camp for five years (they do not have to be five consecutive years.)
I then look toward the other basketball goal and see the banners of the team names of past K Academy champions.
The history of the K Academy was spread throughout Cameron Indoor Stadium to blend in with the history of Duke Basketball.
I then sat down at mid-court to watch the games. What I saw over the next few hours was one of the greatest displays of communication. It was camaraderie at its best.
Several former Duke players such as Jay Bilas, Mike Gminski, Kyrie Irving, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Jeff Capel, Mason Plumlee, Alaa Abdelnaby, Cherokee Parks, Mark Alarie, Kyle Singler, Brian Zoubek, and others joined Coach K in coaching the teams of campers in the playoffs.
The games were played on the ultimate stage and taken very seriously. At times you would see coaches such as Nate James and Jay Bilas arguing their points with the refs during the games.
The team huddles were intense as well, as the former Duke players were giving everything they had into coaching their teams to victory.
One moment that stuck out to me was when Kyrie Irving got in his team huddle with a few seconds left in a close game and yelled, “get the shot we want, blue!”
Here was a former Duke basketball player (Irving) who obviously had a lot on his mind that summer, with looking over a $90 million, 5-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as wondering if Lebron James was coming back to Cleveland to play.
Yet, Kyrie was pouring out all his emotion into coaching his K Academy team to make a last shot to win the game. These playoff games felt like I was at the NCAA Tournament watching a team and coaches give their all to survive and keep playing.
During the breaks between games, you would see campers talking with other campers, coaches talking with campers, and family members talking with their camper, cheering their player on.
At one point, I spotted Coach K having a conversation with Gerald Henderson. You could feel the family atmosphere shared among Coach K, former Duke players and the campers.
During one of the breaks, I talked with former Duke Basketball player Cherokee Parks. He told me the K Academy is all about the “experience.”
Cherokee also explained how this isn’t just pick-up basketball. The K Academy keeps stats, they have trainers working with the campers and the campers suit up for a real game experience.
This was Parks’ first year working the camp. When I asked him what is the one thing he will take away from the camp, he responded with “camaraderie.”
He stated that this was “awesome coming in and seeing some of the ex-players come in before my time and after my time and we all have Coach K in common. Guys in the camp and (Duke) players – we all play for the same coach.”
He also said, “camaraderie is built up in the days there and you make friends for life.”
I also had the opportunity to talk with one of the campers, Eric, who was in his second year of participating in the K Academy. Eric talked about how the K Academy tries to stay as true to the Duke program as possible. He said the campers get video sessions, practice sessions, and game planning, as well as access to the trainers.
I asked Eric what was it like to be coached by former Duke players such as Jay Bilas and Kyrie Irving:
“The quality of the coaching is great and the coaches are really engaged. When they do the film sessions, they’ve broken down film and have game plans. The coaches really do their work and you really feel part of the experience of being on the Duke team.”
I also asked Eric what was the one thing he will take away from the camp. He (just like Parks) stated, “camaraderie.”
He stated, “it’s like going to summer camp. Every year, you come back and you see the same people and you share experiences with them (coaches and players) and it solidifies that bond you have with them.”
The playoff games continued on and teams were eliminated. The championship game was then played and the nets were cut down by the team that was coached by Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Brian Zoubek. I thought it was cool that the team that won the K Academy was coached by players who until then (2014) were players who last helped Duke win a national championship.
I left the K Academy that day knowing I witnessed something special. This wasn’t your everyday basketball camp. This was the ultimate fantasy basketball camp. The K Academy has a family atmosphere shared among the campers, former Duke basketball players, and Coach K.
The K Academy is camaraderie at its best.
This year’s K Academy starts May 27th and goes through May 31st. For more information on signing up for the K Academy, go to their website at kacademy.com