The Washington Times - February 12, 2008, 05:21PM

\ There will be no further references to John Ritter in this blog. And any mention of a “problem child” doesn’t count.\ \ \ Anyway, a question that inevitably comes up when talking to friends (and friends of friends, or just outright strangers who learn I cover college basketball) is as follows: What’s it like to cover a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium? The answer: A challenge.\ \ \ Now, I like the building. It definitely isn’t No. 1 on my list of favorite basketball venues (nothing tops the Palestra), and I remain fond of Cole Field House and Reynolds Coliseum for their quirkiness. Slipping into Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse back in November while in Lawrence for a football story made me want to go back immediately for a game, and there’s a host of other venues I have not visited (UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, New Mexico’s The Pit, Oregon’s McArthur Court, among others) that would probably make any legitimate fan’s short list.\ \ \ Cameron’s there, too, though there’s no shortage of things to know before heading there lest you leave with a sense of disappointment. Granted, this comes from a reporter’s viewpoint and experience, but it does provide a sliver of the courtside Cameron experience. So here’s eight rules and insights to keep in mind while covering a game at Durham’s most famous gym.\ \ \ 1. Contrary to popular opinion, the Crazies are fairly well-behaved. Tomorrow will be my fifth men’s game at Cameron over four different seasons, so it’s a decent sampling. And despite the buzz, it is difficult to describe the students there as intimidating. \ \ \ They are close to the court. They can reach out and touch you. But unlike at, say, Maryland or old Veterans Stadium, there is no fear a 9-volt battery is going to be thrown onto the playing surface. That’s a good thing, but it also slices considerably into the fear factor. Machiavelli would not be proud.\ \ \ Irritating? Maybe. Nearby? Absolutely. Intimidating? Not so much.\ \ \ 2. Nice clothes are a no-no. Sitting right in front of the Crazies brings some hazards. There will be spittle. There could be someone breathing heavily from all the jumping up and down. But most importantly, there will be people in body paint leaning up against you all night.\ \ \ That’s OK. That’s their right. But it means going to this basketball cathedral is far from a black-tie affair. I’ll stick with the fleece pullover tomorrow night.\ \ \ 3. Warm clothes are a no-no. It doesn’t get sweltering, Cole-style, in Cameron. But it will never be an igloo, even in the upper reaches of the building where all the season ticket holders sit.\ \ \ I rarely put much thought into selecting attire for a road trip (that would explain a great many other things, I fear). But there’s always a pause before stuffing things into a travel bag for a game at Cameron. After all, there’s no reason to roast.\ \ \ 4. Ignore the walk into the building. The media parking lot is on the promenade of Durham County High School Stadium, er, Wallace Wade Stadium. It might also be called the dreariest place in major college football.\ \ \ It’s best to just close your eyes and imagine that you’re not in a place that will be either half empty or invaded by opposing fans when football season rolls around. Pondering that proximity (and the dichotomy of Duke’s excellent basketball program and scuffling football team) will only take away enjoyment from the experience.\ \ \ 5. Arrive before the fans. Impossible? Well, getting there two hours before tip off ensures a chance to stroll around without getting mobbed. And it is a chance to appreciate the building’s architecture (if you’re into that), see the little ledge Dickie V (who will inevitably do his crowd surfing later on before bursting into the press room on an energetic high that seems at first glance unnatural without the use of caffeine or some other stimulant but is actually the honest expression of the guy’s gregarious personality) has to sit on, and observe the tight quarters even more before anyone else storms into the seats.\ \ \ 6. Obtaining a cheer sheet is a must. First of all, a general rule: Cheer sheets are lame. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Duke, Virginia, the University of Saskatoon or somewhere in a former Soviet republic. Cheer sheets are lame. I stand by my convictions.\ \ \ That said, obtaining a cheer sheet at the student entrance does provide a hint of the demeanor of the fans. If they’re a particularly surly bunch (which I’ve yet to encounter in Durham), it would stand to reason the edgy comments the Crazies are known for would appear. \ \ \ Maryland’s last two trips to Cameron have produced fairly tame efforts at pre-planned hijinks (and in turn, fairly tame in-game hijinks). I’m all in favor of that swinging back the other way, for the sake of my own amusement.\ \ \ 7. Get to your seat early. There is little room to navigate along press row, so even though a backache is all but assured, it’s better to get to an assigned spot rather than wait until just a few minutes before tip-off. At that point, you’re probably doomed to climbing over the press table to get to your seat, which can be quite the predicament for some more rotund members of the press corps.\ \ \ The Crazies are usually quite accommodating, but it all comes back to basic physics: Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And space is tight. Better to etch out what little turf there is to be had.\ \ \ 8. Leave your seat early. This is an unpleasant little detail of a reporter’s visit to Cameron for a night game. If you’re on deadline, it makes little sense to remain courtside for the second half. There isn’t room to work, and if you’re not the best consumer and get yourself stuck with a big laptop (blush), it makes it harder on the folks packed in next to you.\ \ \ The price of the space crunch and the deadline factor means darting from the press room to a corner of the court throughout the second half, a short trip but a hassle nonetheless. And it means a worse angle of seeing Coach K and Gary work the refs, which always seems to be a more heated endeavor at Cameron than anywhere else.\ \ \ —- Patrick Stevens