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  • Mike Buckmire

Dear Cameron Crazies: How Covid changed the course of my senior year

I want to start with a story. During this past winter break, my friend from home asked me, “What was the last picture you took on your phone before we all got sent home from school?” When I looked back, I found the last picture I had taken was from March 7th, 2020, the day of the UNC-Duke game. It was a picture of the crowd that had gathered in K-Ville about 4 hours before the actual game. I don’t remember much about that moment, or the game (besides winning), but I never would have guessed that this picture would be the end of what I knew my Duke experience to be, and the start of the winding, emotional, and reflective journey that has brought me to where I am today.

For those of you who do not know me well, let me introduce myself a bit. My name is Michael Cameron Buckmire and I am a senior Biology major and a member of the Men’s basketball team here at Duke. I included my middle name to show that I was in fact named after Cameron Indoor Stadium and that being a part of this team has been a dream come true.

I remember a lot of “firsts” from my freshman year. First game in Cameron. First time scoring. First loss. First tournament games. And the list goes on and on. I was a wide-eyed freshman like most are, and you would never see me without a smile. However, what I remember most about that first season was the intense energy around campus and the roaring of the crowds in Cameron during each game. The first time I actually got on the court, I recall it being so loud that I could not even think inside my own head. It was an atmosphere so different from what I had experienced in high school, but it made me realize that I was a part of something special.

As I began to understand what it meant to be a member of such a high-profile college sports program, I noticed more often the vast amount of support that the Duke community gave to me and my teammates as athletes, but also as people. I was taken aback the first time I was recognized as a player outside of Duke’s campus, or the first time I was asked to sign an autograph. These small gestures showed the devotion that Duke basketball followers have towards their team. Seeing that made me more motivated to live up to the standards of excellence that were expected of us.

But at that time, I rarely stopped to think about the big picture because I was so excited and driven to move from one thing to the next. I looked forward to each practice, game, trip, and everything in between. I kept my head down and grinded through what would be almost three years of the highly time-consuming path of being a pre-med student-athlete. As every student-athlete knows, it’s not easy to go from practice to class to practice again. But the rigorous schedule and motivation to succeed kept me going.

That all changed when we were sent away from Duke, and back to our respective homes. I remember going home and not really thinking much of it. Obviously, we were in the middle of a pandemic, but I did not think it was going to directly affect me in my life. I certainly would not have anticipated that almost exactly a year later, I would be quarantined in a hotel with my teammates after hearing that our 2021 season was canceled due to this same pandemic.

Eventually, I was able to segue back into life as a Duke student again to start my senior year. I came back to Durham in the summer, moved into an off-campus apartment, and started to take summer classes like I normally would. Classes felt the same, just on Zoom, and summer/pre-season practices were similar but in smaller groups. Although I had not gotten the chance to meet and bond with the new freshman on the team as much as I usually would during the summers, I was still excited for my senior year with an extremely talented team. But it was not until our first home game in Cameron that I truly realized the magnitude of how different this season would be.

"Cameron never felt the same without the Crazies. For lack of a better term, that 'craziness' is what makes Duke, Duke."

The first game of the season was against Coppin State on November 28th, 2020. Even before the game, I could tell that this “game-day” would be different from what I was used to. There was no music playing in K-Ville as I walked to the gym and no people anxiously waiting in line to get into Cameron. Once on the court, thousands of fans were replaced by large canvas pictures of the Crazies, and the crowd noise was played from speakers placed behind those canvases. All of these replacements made sense, as they were an attempt to create a similar atmosphere, but they obviously could never compare. At the tip-off of games, when all of the undergrad and grad students would normally be jumping in the crowd and making noise, the court was filled only by the sound of the players and coaches yelling to start the game. As the game went on, Cameron echoed squeaking shoes and the basketball bouncing. I remember distinctly thinking to myself, “Wow, it’s quiet in here.”

Cameron never felt the same without the Crazies. For lack of a better term, that “craziness” is what makes Duke, Duke. It is the reason why so many athletes and students are drawn to this University. Coupled with an amazing academic education, Duke offers a one-of-a-kind experience in how it supports and empowers its athletes. Not many other schools have athletic facilities right across the street from their main campus, and Duke made sports feel woven into campus life. I know I speak for my team when I say we missed the Crazies and missed that unwavering support this year. Something I hope to see again next year.

When I look back on this year, it’s easy to think about what was lost due to COVID protocol. I missed talking to people about the games on campus. I missed running on the court in front of a packed Cameron waiting to explode. I missed the moments of excitement after an amazing play when everyone would get out of their seats, jump, and scream out of enjoyment. I missed my Senior Night. And most of all, I missed the emotion and passion that was shared in each game by the entire community.

"I couldn't let Covid detract from my enthusiasm and determine how I finished my Duke experience."

But what this year has brought me was an immense amount of time to be reflective, grateful, and appreciative of the moments I’ve had in the past, but also this year. As a team, I felt closely bonded to my teammates due to the unnatural circumstances we were all going through. As an upperclassman on this team, this year gave me a chance to connect with freshmen probably more than I would have in other years. During this year of extreme uncertainty, I felt like it was my job to step up as a leader to help guide our team in the best path on and off the court. My role on this team was not to play 40 minutes of basketball each game, so I cherished the smaller moments of encouraging, helping, or providing energy where I could. Every day, I knew that this was not the senior year I wanted, but I felt it was my duty to still keep my team motivated when no external “hype” could. Even during rough patches of the season, it would have been easy for all of us, especially as seniors, to make excuses and quit as a team. But after almost three years of playing for the best program, best fans, and best community in the world, I couldn't let Covid detract from my enthusiasm and determine how I finished my Duke experience.

I describe all of this to explain how much I missed the support of the Duke community this year, but more importantly, how thankful I am that I got to experience it for such a long time. This year has made me a more introspective person and more appreciative of the amazing life I have lived as a student-athlete at Duke. I have become a better leader, teammate, player, and person this year and wouldn’t have been able to do it if not for the support of the last three years cemented in the back of my mind. From all of the places Duke has taken me, to all of the incredible people I have gotten to see and meet (Obama included), my experience has been far from ordinary. I’m extremely sorry for all of the freshmen that have not been able to experience Duke the way I have, and I hope that soon it will be close to what it was before. More than anything, this year has made me appreciate all of the little things that have made these last 4 years incredible.

Lastly, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to write out something similar to what I would have said to a sold-out Cameron, after the game on my Senior Night as a tradition for all Duke players:

“Hi everyone. I’ll try not to cry, but I want to thank so many people that have made my time here at Duke so amazing. I want to thank my parents for supporting me through the ups and downs of my life. You guys have sacrificed so much for me that I can’t say how much I love you both for it. Thank you to all of the coaches and staff. You took a chance on me and have made me a better player, leader, and man and I will never forget the lessons I have learned here. Thank you to my teammates, you are all brothers to me and I will cherish every moment we’ve shared on and off the court. Thank you to all of my teachers and advisors who have helped me along the way. To my friends, my girlfriend, and family, thank you for going on this journey with me. I hope it was as amazing for you all as it was for me. And lastly, thank you to all of the Duke fans, supporters, and crazies. Duke would not be the same without you all and it’s the reason that I’ve been a Duke fan since I can remember. In the words of my good friend Brennan Bessar, ‘You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.' My time here has come to an end, but I am so excited for my future and the future of this program. I will always be part of the Brotherhood. Thank you, I love you all.”

- Mike Buckmire

(Photo Credits: Duke Athletics and Mike Buckmire)


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