Ohio State students start camping out for Duke game Monday morning

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Duke was not the No. 1 team in the nation when Catie Cleveland arrived at Value City Arena. Heck, the sun was still threatening to rise over the Ohio State campus when the fourth-year public health major started to set up shop on the southern side of the home of Buckeyes basketball.

It was 6:30 a.m. Monday, and Cleveland was there to stake her claim for the best seat she could get for Ohio State’s game against Duke – a game that would not tip off for 39 more hours. For the native Hoosier who couldn’t attend a single game last year as the sport pressed on through the pandemic in empty arenas, it wasn’t a question of why she would arrive so early for the game.

The only question was, “Why not?”

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“I grew up a huge basketball fan and I’ve watched Coach K since I was young,” Cleveland, 22, said. “I’ve been a fan of Aaron Craft since I was 8 years old. To come here as an Ohio State student, I missed out on a full season last year. This is an opportunity to get back in and get the place rocking. It’s No. 1, a legendary coach, it’s an extraordinary opportunity as a student.”

Five-and-a-half hours after Cleveland arrived, the Blue Devils climbed to No. 1 in this week’s Associated Press poll. Duke is the first top-ranked team to play Ohio State since Michigan State came to Value City Arena on Jan. 7, 2018, a game that saw the unranked Buckeyes pull off the 80-64 upset.

Sam King, a third-year neuro science major from Lima, Ohio, wasn’t an Ohio State student when that happened. This time around, he arrived at 8 a.m. and met up with Cleveland and a group that, as of Monday night, was nearing a dozen hardy members.

“It means the world (to be here),” he said. “I mean, there’s only so many opportunities I get as an OSU student that other people don’t have the chance to live during these four years. Ever since the schedule was released we had this in mind. A couple groups of friends got together and decided, why not?”

The chance to watch this year's team resonated with the Nuthouse, which sold out its full allotment of season tickets in one hour.

Monday night’s forecast called for a 90% chance of snow with temperatures dropping to around 34 degrees. Tuesday promises a balmy high of 47 under partly cloudy skies before a sunset at 5:07 p.m. – more than three hours before Ohio State and Duke will tip off at 9:30 p.m.

“I grew up in Indiana, so being from the Hoosier state basketball has always been in my blood,” Cleveland said. “I think that Ohio State basketball is a little under-looked here. We have two great programs that compete every year. I like to back the basketball players and Duke’s famous for the campouts when they play UNC, so I thought it would be great if we all got together and took some of their tradition from them.”

Cleveland and King said the staff at the arena has been supportive of the students. The members of the Nuthouse have been given hot chocolate and pizza as well as access to the arena’s indoor plumbing, and the building’s wifi signal is strong enough to keep the campers connected.

After Monday’s practice, current players Meechie Johnson Jr., Zed Key, E.J. Liddell, Joey Brunk, Harrison Hookfin and Kyle Young came out to spend time with the campers. They poked around the four tents, checked to make sure everyone was warm enough and posed for photos in front of the student entrance to the arena.

In the meantime, the campers are passing time by simply being college students. Some are studying, some are playing cards, others are listening to music. Cleveland said there was an impromptu Monday dance party that leaned heavily into rap and pop music from the early 2000s.

It's all fodder for Tuesday’s main course: the chance to watch Ohio State and Duke and, maybe, yell a few things at a hall-of-fame coach in Mike Krzyzewski.

“He’s a legend in college basketball so it’s great to have an opportunity to sit right behind and watch him coach,” Cleveland said. “Might remind him that his players need to jump stop, try to help him out a little bit.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy