College, “The best four (five, for me, with injuries) years of your life.” They say. I am not going to lie, heading into college I was terrified. The homebody I am and being the baby of the family I didn’t want to leave, but I was excited to start my new journey. I had my family and friends here, so it was all very comfortable to me. Summer 2015 came and went, and at the end of June it was time for me to head to Duke and get used to the campus, team, coaches and of course do our workouts.
That first year, I was part of one of the top ranked recruiting classes for our year. To this day, I still talk to the “Fab 4.” That is what we called ourselves: Kyra, Faith, Crystal (CP), and me. We became so close to one another. Faith, Kyra, and CP will forever be family. That summer was super fun. Faith and I lived together and to this day we call each other to reminisce. Another person who has helped me since the very beginning is my good friend, Becca Greenwell. Becca was an upperclassman at the time, and we became good friends instantly. Our love for country music must have been the deciding factor. We even got to meet Luke Bryan at his concert in Raleigh.
She was someone I looked up to from all of her successes she had as a player. I always admired how humble Beccas was through all her success. That year the team was so close with each other; it was truly special. We would always be hanging out at someone's apartment or going to dinners. The relationships that I have built with my teammates and coach P will last a lifetime. I learned a lot from Coach P and will miss her greatly and all the advice she gave me.
For me, college was two distinct parts: basketball and everything else. It was truly surreal walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium every single game and calling it our home court. I was surrounded by greatness everywhere I went. Whether it would be on the court or in the hallways, seeing Coach K never seemed normal. Truly “The Goat.” I’ll never forget all the great advice he gave me during my career. Summer heading into my 5th year, I’m getting extra shots in the gym by myself. He comes over to me and tells me a lot of nice things about my career and the one thing I will never forget is when he said, “You are about to take off even more this year. Good luck with everything.” I was in awe. You can definitely say I won’t ever forget that conversation.
Alumni, athletic greats, and many others who recognized the importance and history of Cameron frequently visited. I met so many amazing people during my time at Duke, such as Peyton Manning, Chance the Rapper, and Kyrie Irving, to name a few. A funny, embarrassing story happened to me while I was there during my redshirt Junior year. For those who know, Steve Nash is my basketball idol. I would watch film of him all the time; I thought he was the craftiest player ever. His mental game, being able to step on the court every game and just want to dominate people and teams was amazing to me. One day, I was walking into the K center for practice on the way from class. I was on the phone talking to someone and I noticed a small group of people
standing right outside the men’s locker room. I did a double take, and without even saying bye to whoever I was talking to on the phone I went blank. Steve Nash is standing in front of me. “Hey, how’s it going?” He asks. And, just to get a “hi” out wasn’t working for me. I eventually confessed my love of the way he played basketball, and I told him how much I look up to him. How I would style my game around him in every aspect. I start asking him questions and he explains that he was there visiting his godson, RJ Barrett, who was playing there at the time. It was a moment I will never forget, and if I would’ve known he was going to be there I may have looked a little bit more presentable, come on Haley.
Everywhere I went I was held to a certain standard. That was being able to perform and not only represent myself, but the name on the front of my jersey, Duke. I loved being able to have the opportunity to play for such a prestigious school academically and basketball wise as well. My whole college experience was not the norm. We would have training table, (food for after practice and breakfast some days). We had a private jet to take us to away games. A PRIVATE JET.
We would stay in a hotel room and fly right after the game that same night to be back in time for classes the next day. Let me tell y’all, I never got used to that even in my last year taking the plane. Then there was the gear. Every time we got new attire, bags and shoes it felt like Christmas. Don’t even get me started with the unreal treatment we had at our facilities. We got to use the practice center (Krzyzewski Center) day in and day out with a scan of a card at whatever time of the day or night. I could swipe in and get in some shots late at night, use the locker room to study, or finish up homework if I needed a quiet place to focus. Every four years, we were able to go on an abroad trip. One summer, we traveled to Italy and had the opportunity to see Florence, Rome and Venice. On this trip we had the chance to play games against some of the professional teams there. It allowed me to see that basketball could lead to so many cool opportunities.
The academics and my academic advisor, Heather Ryan, were amazing. Heather was truly a blessing. She helped with scheduling, setting up tutors and much more. But, as good and perfect as that sounds it wasn’t. I had to figure out when to study for a certain exam, or get a paper in before I would travel because we would play Thursdays and Sundays. On top of that, I had other assignments for other classes that same day. I really had to be on top of my stuff. It was always my job to be in contact with my professors in advance, and keep Heather up to speed so I could have everything sorted out before practice and games started. To put things in perspective, I would take 12-14 credit hours of class per week. That would be a 4 class schedule per semester with the same amount of homework and exams as everyone else. But, I also had to factor in basically 5 hours a day, usually more, with treatment and extra gym time I wanted to get in. That would be an hour film session, an hour lift and 3ish hours of practice. On top of that, I also had to factor in 1-2 nights of travel each week during the season. It could easily become overwhelming. But, it helped me mature faster because I quickly learned how to get my priorities straight.
I am a big visual learner. I like to see what is in front of me so I know what needs to get done. I had to plan out things day by day, week by week in order to accomplish everything that was needed. Keeping things balanced wasn’t easy; it came with hard work and dedication. It also meant early mornings, and let me tell you, I am the opposite of a morning person. My teammates got used to that. Here is a little glimpse if you were in my shoes during preseason.
5:45am - Up and out the door by 6am
6:05 - Change into practice gear
6:10 - Grab a snack bar and water at the gym and head to weights
6:15 - Start weights
7:00 - Head to practice
9:00 - Finish practice and head to cold tub/shower
9:40 - Head to the dining hall to pick up iced coffee (always has to be iced) and food for class
10:05 - Class
11:45 - Class
1:30 - 3:00 individual workout/extra shots
4pm - Team training table
5pm - Nap
6pm - Homework or hang with my friends
10pm - SLEEP
Obviously, this schedule would change depending on where we were at in the season.
Outside of basketball I made some of my best friends. My team would always say I was the social butterfly, always stopping to talk to my friends that I would pass on the way to class. That’s just who I am. It was nice to have friends on other sport teams or friends that didn’t play a sport at all. It was amazing to have an outlet from the stress of balancing school and basketball. They were all so supportive, and I still have a group that I talk to all the time. These bonds were built between the all-nighters of being in the library and “studying” (sometimes a little too much talking) or getting dinner at the dining hall. I would go back in a heartbeat. I wish I could make a video montage of all the people I met and the memories that were good and bad to show everyone. I want people to know, heading into college isn’t as scary as it may seem at first. I guarantee the butterflies that you were feeling everyone else on that campus is feeling the same way. There were so many good memories that happened, but at the same time so many tears. Tears of joy and tears of mental frustration of thinking you can’t handle everything and it’s just too hard. Never, ever give up, because everything I did was an experience to learn from for the future whether it worked out or not. If it went well, I knew what to do for next time. If it didn’t go well, I knew what not to do.
Looking back, my overall experience with basketball and school was a dream come true. I was in a ton of uncomfortable situations, but those situations pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me excel in the classroom and on the court. I can’t stress enough the importance of planning and getting ahead. While it may have felt like a full time job at times, I loved every minute of my time at Duke.