Duke, Indy made perfect match for Final Four

Editor’s note: As we turn the calendar from April to May, here’s a look back at the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis by one its volunteer organizers, Kevin Horrigan, a former Greenfield-Central High School athletics director who was assigned to work with Duke University and its band and spirit squad.

There’s apparently no truth to the rumor that Mike Krzyzewski is buying a vacation home in Indianapolis. But you couldn’t blame him if he did.

After all, Indianapolis has been very good to Coach K and Duke. Three times he has brought his basketball team to Indianapolis to participate in the Final Four, and all three times they have left with the NCAA Championship Trophy. In 1991, it was by defeating Kansas.

In 2010, it was Butler. And now in 2015, Wisconsin.

Every time I heard Coach K speak during the week he and Duke were in town, he was effusive in his praise for the city of Indianapolis and all of the volunteers.

Even as he and the team and the band and spirit squad were making their way to the airplane to head home, he was thanking anyone who would listen for all they had done for Duke and himself during their time in Indy.

Here are a few observations on the national champion Blue Devils during the Final Four run in what has become their adopted hometown.

Practice matters

Through the years as IHSAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Director, I have watched all of the high school teams practice before the state tournament. It is an inexact science, but you can really get a feel for how the teams may perform in their championship game. Here was my take on the Friday, April 3, practice sessions, which were open to the public.

Michigan State looked like a normal practice, but as had been its downfall all year, they did not hit many free throws.

Duke and Wisconsin came out very businesslike and worked on all aspects of the game. They were not distracted by the crowds watching them.

Kentucky was the most distracted and only used about 20 minutes of their practice session. The rest of the time, they waved at the crowd, took pictures, etc.

Makes sense to me that Duke and Wisconsin ended up in the championship.

And so does homework

There were some great concerts on Sunday afternoon and evening, April 5, and a large number of the band and spirit squad groups stayed downtown to attend those events. Those that did not, returned to the hotel to study and do homework. You heard me right: study and do homework.

One of the requirements in each hotel’s contract is that they had to provide quiet study areas for the students and student-athletes. I was a little disbelieving, like come on, it’s the Final Four. Study? Yeah, right. Well, I was wrong.

I can’t speak for the other three schools, but as to Duke, most of the band and spirit squad kids had been on the road for the better part of a month, in between the men’s and women’s tournaments and traveling all across the country.

They take their studies seriously, and with free WiFi and Internet access, they not only could keep up with their work, but could actually talk with their professors.

I saw a good many of the students choose not to go to the free events and concerts so they could spend time on their studies. I know of at least two students who took exams (monitored by their directors) during the week. Countless more submitted book reports and papers online.

Our hotel provided three areas for study. Two were private, and one was more of a group study area. Except for mandatory functions and the actual games themselves, more often than not, there always were at least 10 to 15 studying or doing work.

To show you how serious Duke is about academics, on Sunday evening, the team, as well as the band and spirit squads all received word that, win or lose on Monday night, their Tuesday departure time was being changed to 2 p.m. The university was going to have a pep rally for them, win or lose.

But they did not want to disrupt any of their day classes. So by changing their flight, the earliest they would make it back to campus was 5 p.m. and Duke would have to cancel only their evening classes.

Security was tight

I’m limited in the things I can reveal security-wise for the event, but one thing I can say is this was a safe event.

Security was a top priority. Not just from the local police, but up the chain to the highest levels of the government.

If you were at the games, you probably saw a heavy presence of uniformed state and local police officers. For every one you saw, there was at least one you didn’t see who was undercover or in a command center. And yes, those big black SUVs you see on all of the crime and police shows on TV really do exist.

Especially the way we went in and out of Lucas Oil, we saw plenty of them. No one at the NCAA, the Indiana Sport Corporation, local, state, or national government levels wanted this event to be remembered for anything but great basketball, and they succeeded.

Bittersweet departure

Duke’s title win against Wisconsin ended after 11 p.m. Monday night, April 6. What a great celebration on the floor. “One Shining Moment,” confetti and streamers showering down on everyone, live interviews, the trophy presentation, the cutting of the nets, off to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Trophy presentation, then away to a multitude of press interviews, back to their locker room, and finally around 2 a.m., back at the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, the street was blocked off to traffic.

There were about 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered outside the hotel waiting for the team.

Once inside, there were people everywhere. We were taken downstairs where the hotel had opened up four large ballrooms and again encountered I do not know how many thousands of Duke fans, family, friends, alumni and just famous people.

It seemed like all of Duke Nation was present, and I was amazed at how many former players were there to congratulate the team and Coach K. Suffice it to say that it probably was a good choice moving the plane departure time back to 2 p.m, as the celebration went on most of the night, or should I say morning.

It was bittersweet as we took them back to the airport for their return flight home. A week had come and gone. A championship had been won. Every single one of the kids and coaches thanked the entire volunteer staff.

They all received a bag of souvenirs and gifts from the NCAA/Indiana Sports Corporation. The one item that brought smiles to all of their faces was a 1:25 scale replica Indy Car skinned in the Final Four colors.

I shook all of their hands as they left, and yes, those of you that know me well, I gave each one a Blow Pop.

The last one I gave out, and the last hand I shook belonged to Coach K.

In addition to his work with the IHSAA and NCAA, Kevin Horrigan is Chairperson for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Endowment Committee and a mentor for new athletic directors for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA). Contact him at kevinhorrigan@att.net.