Dedicated Duke parents do what it takes to watch their sons play

From the Sidelines

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

DURHAM, N.C. -- There's a kid eating nachos with the Cameron Crazies, an Urkel-looking kid with big glasses and a small body. Out on the court, Duke sophomore guard Chris Duhon hits a three-pointer against Wake Forest, and the Crazies start chanting: "Du-du-du, Du-HON!"

One of the Crazies, his face painted royal blue, leans over to the Urkel-looking kid in the front row and playfully chants: "You-you-you, You-HON!"

It's Duhon's 10-year-old brother, Thomas.

Across the court, behind the Duke bench, Vivian Harper is beaming. A few minutes later she tenses as Thomas is body-surfed upward by the Crazies, who push him 25 rows up before bringing him down. When Thomas is back on his feet, eating nachos, Vivian Harper relaxes.

"I get a little nervous, but I love it and Thomas loves it," Harper says. "Chris loves it, too. That's why we came."

A lot of them came. Harper moved from Slidell, La., to Durham. Carlos Boozer's parents also moved here, all the way from Juneau, Alaska, and the parents of Jason Williams and Dahntay Jones might as well have. The mamas and poppas will reconvene at Cameron Indoor Stadium again today for Duke's last home game against North Carolina -- the final home game for NBA-bound juniors Boozer and Williams.

The kids will be grateful.

"It's the time of my life," Chris Duhon says. "I'm thrilled they're here to share it with me."

Indeed, for Duke, signing Duhon was a package deal. Also included: Vivian and Thomas.

"Right after Chris signed with Duke," Harper said, "he said, 'Mama, I can't do this without you. I want you to come all the way.' When he said that, I said, 'OK."'

About that time, Boozer -- then a Duke freshman -- said something similar to his parents in Juneau. They said OK, too. The Boozers were double-teamed, asked to move not only by Carlos, but also by their oldest daughter, Natasha, a singer at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.

"If they wanted us there," Renee Boozer says, "we wanted to be there."

They sit behind the bench, some nights the parents of the entire starting five: Boozer, Duhon, Williams, Jones and junior forward Mike Dunleavy.

"We won't miss a game," says Dahntay Jones' mother, Joanne. "We're spending all our vacation time, all our vacation money, but it's worth it. He's our only child."

Weekday games are tough, but Joanne and Larry Jones have a routine. They go from work to the Newark, N.J., airport, and fly to Durham in time for tip-off. The next day they catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Newark, then go in style to their offices at Johnson & Johnson.

"We take a limousine," Joanne says. "It's cheaper than parking at the airport for $50 a day."

Williams' mom, Althea, comes to almost every game and is an active voice on Duke-oriented Internet message boards. Dunleavy's dad, ex-NBA coach Mike Dunleavy, has been coming to more and more games as the season progresses. A sign that this could be the younger Dunleavy's final year at Duke? Nobody is saying.

Duke has made sure the parents understand NCAA rules about illegal gifts extend to a player's family.

"Chris Duhon's mother was very careful -- she used to call all the time," says Duke senior associate athletics director Chris Kennedy, who oversees compliance. "What could we do for her, finding her a place to live? I called the conference office, to find where to draw the line, and they said, 'Xerox a Realtor's page from the Yellow Pages and send it to her -- that's all.' She was very concerned about following every rule."

When Harper's Internet-surfing in Louisiana led to an offer as an account manager for a local investment firm, she called Duke before she accepted.

"She wanted to know if it was OK to take the job," Kennedy says. "We asked: 'How did you find it? Are you qualified? Will you be paid the same?' Everything was fine."

Renee Boozer, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, transferred from Juneau to the Triangle. Carlos Sr., a computer programmer in Alaska, found an administrative position with a Triangle research company.

"I love computers, but I'm just a paper-pusher now," he says. "Hey, it's a good job, and I'm close to my son. I've got no complaints."

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