I was serving a typical training meal for the guys after a practice. Grayson and Amile were there. Coach K had just come up for his meal and was like, "Sam I need to talk to you."
I thought I might be in trouble. He said it in that kind of way. I said to myself, "Oh shoot, what did I do?" And I got over to Coach and he pulled out a 2015 national championship ring. And he gave it to me. And it had my name on it! It crushed me. I was speechless. I was ready to pass out. I said, "Really!???" And he said, "Sam, you do so much for our program. I want to give you this ring." The players hugged me. I wanted to start crying. It was a special moment. One of the best of my career.
I have served meals for the Duke Basketball team for over 15 years. For the past eight, I've done almost all of them. Hundreds of meals. Around six days a week in season, I will feed the boys.
I always look forward to the meals. They are great guys to be around, and I'm able to get to know them and their families in a special way. I can give a hug when they are down. Laugh at their jokes. Get to know their likes and dislikes around meals.
In the food industry, you deal with all kinds of customers and different people. I guess that's the same for any job. In my case with the boys, I am dealing with polite, appreciative, funny and goofy college kids. I've loved that. There's never been a player who wasn't pleasant. It's really a family and we all have each other's backs.
I try to be a mom away from their moms. There are things they may tell me that they know won't get repeated. Sometimes they just need that hug. I watch the games, but my relationship has really nothing to do with that at all. We don't talk basketball. They know I have their back. I will look out for them. I let guys come to me. I listen. Sometimes it's nice just to have someone who will listen.
Of course, my main duty is to make sure the guys eat well. We put a lot of thought into what we serve the team. It's a balance between food that they love and healthier options. The boys always give me feedback so the meals are always different. We try to make sure we bring what they like. They are working hard and burning a lot of calories. We still have to keep an eye out to make sure they eat veggies and the healthy entrees and sides too. Most of them arrive like typical teenagers without a lot of interest in eating anything green, so we work on that.
Duke has a nutritionist (Franca Alphin) who gives us great advice on what the guys need. We're able to provide really balanced meals for them. I don't select the menus. I take feedback back to our chef. The boys also have a nutrition room next to the locker room where they can make a sandwich or grab a snack at any time. The managers make post-practice smoothies every day too.
Throughout the year, I am always in touch with the coaches and Coach Will. If we need guys to gain weight, I will keep an eye out for that. I may encourage another serving or bring something special for them. And then you have guys who may need to drop a few pounds. That's hard for the mom in me to monitor and keep the food down, but I know it's important. We get it done!
Today, we served hamburgers, mac 'n cheese and hot dogs with fruit and salad. This meal wasn't our healthiest option but sometimes you have to go with the comfort foods and things they like. The most popular meal right now is probably the burrito bowls with all the options. Major protein opportunities on those! They like Mexican food in general. My favorite meal to serve is breakfast. The boys like breakfast. They are easy to please. They like the basics. Eggs, bacon, fruit. We will do an omelette station and an waffle station sometimes. Almost all of them love the waffles, especially Coach K, Coach Scheyer and Amile!
Every player has his favorites and comes with his own tastes. The most interesting had to be Jah. When he came in, he was liking syrup on everything. He would make his plate for breakfast and just pour syrup over everything and it would be floating. He even put sugar in his pasta when we did Pasta Station. You could hear the sugar crunching when he ate it. It was a lot of sugar! He had sugar in the red sauce! We had to keep an eye on him! He needed his sugar.
Everyone loves Jah and he was easy to work with. He is a big teddy bear. The one thing about a meal is you can really see how well the guys get along. Jah got along with everyone really well.
This brings me back to the ring from Coach. We all know Jah was a beast on that team. But it all came together before then. Really, I saw it start at a recruiting meal. This was my most memorable recruiting meal. It was the official visit weekend for Jah, Tyus and Justise.
With the parents and kids, it seemed like they were already part of the family before they came. You could tell they were coming. You can tell at those recruiting meals. The mom is important. As a mom, you just want to know your son is headed to a place where he will be happy and loved. The dads are different. They get more into the basketball.
And it was so obvious that this was going in a great direction. We were going to get Jah, Tyus and Justise and they going to fit right in. A few months later Jah had arrived and was pouring syrup on everything and a few weeks after that he was eating better and a few months later we were winning every big game and then it was April and we were cutting the nets down.
It all started with the family atmosphere and the great relationships and the togetherness. That's what I love to see! I am not a basketball expert, but I've seen enough hoops to know that the bond off the court can impact the results in the games. It takes a team and a family! To be a part of that family atmosphere is a lot of fun and a big honor.