Nolan Smith has been wildly popular since he got to Duke. He has an incandescent personality and people are drawn to him. He’s not called the People’s Champion for nothing.
He also has a deep sadness to his life: his father, Derek, who won a national championship at Louisville, died on a cruise of a massive heart attack. Nolan and the rest of the family was on board.
It must have been unbelievably traumatic.
After Duke’s win at Louisville Saturday, Coach K spoke and said that he didn’t usually give a game ball but he would this time. He explained that “this is [Nolan’s] home.” He talked about Nolan’s closeness to his father and how special that was. Then he gave him the team ball.
It obviously moved Smith and the team. Everyone gathered around him and touched and embraced him.
We doubt that it was intended as anything except what it was but for this group, that seemed like a profound team-building moment as well.
Incidentally, he’s too young and unproven to be a realistic candidate for the Louisville job right now, but K is probably right. If he’s good enough and has the chance, we’re guessing Nolan Smith would love to come home some day.
Unless of course Duke has become more of a home.