Associate Head Coach / Duke Men’s Basketball

January 25, 2017 - als

It’s a open of 2016, we am 41 years old, and a law is, when they tell us my father has ALS, we don’t even entirely know what it is.

Well, on some level, we know what it is. I’ve known, from my dad’s symptoms, that there is something apparently wrong — he’s been slurring his disproportion lately, roughly like he’s had a few drinks. we know, from a tests they’re running, and from his doctor’s choice of words, that it’s bad news. And we know, from (of all things …) carrying finished a Ice Bucket Challenge a integrate of summers ago, that this is a illness nonetheless a cure. Sitting there with my parents, in that doctor’s bureau during Duke, and discussion “ALS” … we know. But we don’t know.

My mom knows. Once a alloy has finished a initial pronounce — second opinions, medications, that arrange of thing — he leaves us alone in a room. Almost immediately, my mom gets up.

“I’m going to go use a bathroom,” she says. But we know she doesn’t have to use a bathroom. we can tell from her voice: She usually doesn’t wish my father and me to see her cry.

Sometimes a tinge of a voice can tell we things that hours of reason never could. As shortly as we hear my mom speak, and see a demeanour on her face as she gets adult … that’s when we know.

And as shortly as she leaves a room … well, that’s when we find out what ALS unequivocally is, in a many 2016 approach possible: by googling it on my phone. Two sentences into reading a diagnosis, my heart drops.

Progressive neurological disease.

Average presence from conflict to genocide is dual to 4 years.

No famous cure.

I put down my phone. we can’t review anymore.

And afterwards we demeanour opposite a room … and of march my father is doing a accurate same thing: sitting there, staring during his phone, googling this illness that is about to change his life forever. And afterwards he looks up, and looks during me. And we demeanour during any other. And we usually arrange of lay there, father and son, not observant a word — any now meaningful what a other one knows.

A few mins later, my mom comes back.

“Where’s that bathroom?” we ask her.

It’s several months later, now, and we still cruise about that day often. It seems like a fuzz — a tests, a diagnosis, a light fulfilment that things would be opposite from afterwards on — and not many about it creates sense. But one thing always will:

Everyone cried nonetheless my dad.

It’s a tumble of 1978, we am 3 years old, and my father says yes.

After 4 years in a Army, my dad, Jeff Capel Jr., has graduated with a grade in health and earthy preparation from Fayetteville State. And he is looking to spin a basketball coach.

You know how many coaches tend to get their start from a personal connection? Someone knows someone, who used to play for someone, or manager for someone … something like that? Yeah, good — here’s my dad’s best connection, as a immature black male perplexing to mangle into coaching in 1978: He still lives in a city where he went to high school.

And so, during 25 years old, Jeff Capel Jr. goes behind to Pinecrest High, in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and asks for a job.

And they contend no.

But wait, they tell him: You can manager JV — as a volunteer.

And my father says yes.

It’s a summer of 1985, we am 10 years old, and Bob Staak is sitting right there. Right there — examination Pinecrest High School varsity basketball. Coach Staak is a conduct manager during Wake Forest, and Pinecrest has trafficked to Winston-Salem for a Wake Forest organisation camp. Coach Staak doesn’t know many about Pinecrest as a team, or about Southern Pines as a town. But they have a actor he is looking to recruit, and so he’s there to scout.

The diversion starts, and a actor is as good as advertised. Matter of fact, a whole organisation is flattering good. Matter of fact … and that’s when Bob Staak notices something.

This Pinecrest manager is flattering damn impressive.

His enlightening character … his ease appearance … their descent sets … their defensive classification … a plays they’re regulating out of timeouts — this has to be one of a many well-coached high propagandize teams he’s ever seen. And this conduct coach: What is he, like 30? Bob Staak sees what he needs to see, finishes scouting a game, and afterwards leaves. But not before creation a note to himself:

Jeff Capel can coach.

It’s a tumble of 1987, we am 12 years old, and no one knows who threw adult on Robert Horry.

Hang on, let me backtrack.


My father is in his second deteriorate as an partner basketball manager during Wake Forest — and Bob Staak, Wake’s conduct coach, has sent him on a last-minute recruiting trip. Gotta see this child from Andalusia, Alabama. Real large kid, a scouting news says. But he can glow a lights out.

My younger brother, Jason, and we are always vagrant a father to tab along, wherever he goes. And Dad hates how many he’s been divided from us while he’s been during Wake. And for whatever reason, on this weekend, those dual army mix — and my father decides to let me and Jason fly with him on his Alabama trip.

Just to give we a clarity of how large of a understanding this is: Up to that point, my hermit and we have never even been on a craft before. Like, we’re from a country. If a lives adult to now were a fighting card, this outing would be a categorical event. We’re pumped, man.

But before we start picturing a integrate of wide-eyed kids climbing aboard some 747, a tiny perspective: This isn’t large income NCAA yet. This is — how can we put this? — this is a ’80s.

We travel adult to a smallest crop-duster craft you’ve ever seen. Jason and we are usually looking during any other, and afterwards during a plane, and afterwards behind during any other — both frightened half to death. But eventually we bound in, and take off, and make it to Alabama nonetheless a hitch. We collect adult Robert, contend a hellos, and afterwards Robert gets on a craft with us to come behind to Wake. (Recruiting is a tiny opposite in a ‘80s.)

It’s a tumble of 1987, we am 12 years old, and no one knows who threw adult on Robert Horry.

Having usually combined a energy brazen to a roving party, on a already tiny plane, a moody behind ends adult being … good … not as smooth. It’s parsimonious quarters: Robert, right in between me and Jason. It’s dim and bumpy. And on this tiny ’80s stand duster … thousands of feet adult in a atmosphere … sitting shoulder to shoulder with a 17 year aged child who will one day go on to spin Big Shot Bob … somebody starts to feel sick.

And afterwards somebody can’t find their air-sick bag.

And afterwards somebody chooses a misfortune probable instruction to turn.

And afterwards somebody throws up.

To this day, my hermit and we can’t determine on who that somebody is, possibly it was me or him. Fingers have been pointed. Accusations have been made. No one has certified anything.

But here’s all we know:

1. Somebody threw adult all over Robert Horry.

2. Robert Horry did not finish adult going to Wake Forest.

As for my dad? He usually laughed. A lot of fathers would have been furious, we suppose — their kids messing adult a large work display during their imagination new job. But a dad? Nah. He apologized to Rob. He attempted to assistance purify adult a mess. And afterwards he usually laughed.

And when it came time for a subsequent recruiting outing — we were right there with him.

It’s a open of 1989, we am 14 years old, and Wake Forest has motionless to glow their conduct basketball coach. My dad, still an partner on Bob Staak’s staff, has been dismissed as well. That afternoon, Dad picks me and Jason adult from school. We’re in a automobile when he tells us a news.

“Look,” he says, “I usually wish we to know: Coach Staak got dismissed today. Which means that I’m out of a pursuit right now.”

Jason is usually nine, and substantially too immature to know what it means to get fired. But I’m aged enough. And we remember those subsequent few seconds well: sitting in a automobile … my mind racing … panicking … worrying. Are we going to be O.K.?

Abruptly, those thoughts are interrupted by my dad.


“Hey — we don’t wish we guys to worry,” he says, branch around, looking both me and Jason in a eye. “We’re gonna be fine. I’ve never not worked in my life. We’re gonna be fine. We’re gonna be fine.”

And we were. My father finished adult removing another job, usually a few weeks later. Our lives stayed a same. We always had a roof over a heads, and food on a table. But some-more than anything else that happened in a years after he got his subsequent pursuit — with all of a success that he had — what we cruise many about now, as an adult, is that impulse in a car. How my father told us not to worry, and so we never disturbed again. How my father said, “We’re gonna be fine,” and so we usually thought, We are.

It’s a winter of 1994, we am 18 years old, and I’m about to start my second division as a beginner during Duke. We’re ranked No. 2 in a country. Haven’t mislaid yet. we am starting, producing and personification good minutes. But even still, a composition to college has been tough. we am removing yelled during nonstop by Coach K. And for no reason — or during slightest that’s what we tell myself. And during slightest that’s how it feels during a time. It’s a humorous thing, being a immature male of a certain age: You somehow cruise that we both have all of a answers, and that we can’t do anything right.

I’m revelation my parents, “This dude Coach K is so mean.”

And so each time we get yelled during by Coach K that winter, I’m pursuit home to complain. I’m revelation my parents, “This dude Coach K is so mean.” Or, “Coach is always yelling during me.” Or, “Listen … we don’t cruise this is operative out.” Stuff like that. Also: You know how, as a kid, we rise a arrange of sixth clarity for what a “mom conversation” is contra what a “dad conversation” is? Well, we improved trust we know my dad’s mantra: No excuses. And we also know, low down, that that’s accurately what I’m doing each time we call home to protest about Coach K: creation excuses. So we get genuine crafty about it — and make certain that, any time we do my coach-is-mean bit, I’m articulate to my mom. Sorry, correction: we think I’m being clever. And we think I’m articulate to my mom. Little do we know, my mom is relaying each singular one of these conversations directly to my dad.

Then, someday in January, my father comes down to Durham. The organisation has an off day, so he takes me out to lunch. (Damon’s — classical Dad Lunch.) And we’re during lunch, and we’re articulate about whatever. And afterwards all of a sudden, out of a blue, he says to me, “Hey, look, so, when we leave here — let’s usually expostulate behind to your dorm room, and we can go forward and container adult some of your stuff. And afterwards we can take a bucket home for you.”

Huh? And that’s what we contend to him. “Huh?”

And he goes, “It’ll be good. You know — so we don’t have as many to take home with us during a finish of a year.”

Now I’m unequivocally confused. I’m like, “Dad. What are we articulate about?”

And nonetheless blank a beat, he goes, “Aren’t we transferring?”

I solemnly comprehend where this is going.

“I mean, we call your mom all a damn time, articulate this and that, about how you’re not being treated right, about how we can’t play for Coach K—”

Man, Mom sole me out.


“Nah, Dad, it’s—”

And I’m removing prepared to go by my whole thing, circuitous adult my list of excuses, when he stops me.

“Let me ask we a question. Are we guys ranked in a country?”

“Yeah, Dad, we’re No. 2.”

“And you’re undefeated, right?”


“And you’re starting?”


“Are we removing to a gym, removing there early, removing work in?”


“O.K. then. Well, look: Like we said, let’s usually go on behind to a dorm room right now. We’ll collect this things adult and we’ll take it behind home.”

“Dad, nah.…”

My voice trails off, and he let’s me meal in it for a few seconds.

But usually a few.

“So let me get this straight: You’re No. 2 in a country. You’re undefeated. You’re starting. You’re removing your work in. And you’re articulate about how this isn’t operative out?

Don’t let him demeanour we in a eye, I’m thinking. Don’t … let him … demeanour we … in a eye.

“Dad, I’m revelation you, we don’t understand—”

And that’s when Jeff Capel Jr. looks me passed in my eye.

“Man, SHUT THE F*** UP. Stop pursuit home and complaining. And usually play.”

And afterwards he gets up, orderly places his napkin on a table, and walks away. I’m articulate walks away. My father literally usually leaves a grill … gets in his automobile … and drives off. Sticks me with a bill, too. (Sorry, Damon’s.) Have to steal a phone and enterprise a teammate to collect me up. (Thanks, Damon’s.) And nonetheless we substantially know how this story ends, I’ll tell we anyway: we never call home to protest again. we never cruise about transferring again.

And we come behind a subsequent day and have a best use of my life.

So when we cruise about a lessons my father has taught me over a years, all of those lessons that we wouldn’t be a male we am currently without, of march we cruise of a large ones. Show up. Keep your promises. Appreciate what you’ve got. No excuses. But we find myself usually as mostly meditative of a tiny ones — those specific lessons that we can tie to a singular memory, or even a singular day.

Like a day my father took an 18-year-old child out to lunch — a child who didn’t know a good thing when he had it — and taught him that infrequently … we usually close a f*** up. Sometimes … we usually stop complaining. And, man: Sometimes, we usually play.

It’s a open of 1997, we am 22 years old, and my brother, Jason, is perplexing to settle on a school.

When we was going by my possess preference process, behind in ’92, things were many simpler: we was a tip 25 awaiting — good, genuine good, nonetheless not creation inhabitant headlines. And in ’92, my father was still usually starting his college head-coaching career, during Fayetteville State — so personification for him wasn’t unequivocally an option. we knew we wanted to play in a ACC, and Duke offering me a scholarship. we committed in a open of my youth year. Like we said, simple.

But with Jason, a few years after … all is different. Jason isn’t a tip 25 awaiting — he’s tip five. That competence not seem like a outrageous difference, nonetheless trust me, it is. Everyone wants Jason. Further complicating matters, is that my father is now a conduct manager during Old Dominion — a many some-more high-profile propagandize in a many some-more high-profile conference. And not usually that, nonetheless he’s been carrying success, entrance off of dual trips to a NCAA contest in his initial 3 years.

And if we don’t cruise that Old Dominion’s higher-ups, during this point, have their eye on a fact that the coach’s son is a tip 5 inhabitant prospect, good — afterwards we contingency not follow college hoops. Old Dominion wants Jason, bad. In fact, it’s over wanting — a lot of people there are expecting my father to broach him.

They contingency not know my dad.

One afternoon, Dad and Jason come down to Durham to assistance me pierce out of my apartment. I’ve usually graduated from Duke and we’re going to take my things behind home. We’ve got a U-Haul, we’re loading it up, a whole deal. It’s one of those wet open days in North Carolina, so we’re sweating from all a complicated lifting — and we lay down for a break. And as a 3 of us are sitting there, on boxes in my roughly dull apartment, my father looks during Jason and says, “Well, let’s pronounce about your recruitment.”

By now, Jason has “officially” narrowed his list down to 4 schools: Florida State, Seton Hall, Old Dominion and North Carolina. Or during slightest that’s a farthest we’ve discussed it until now. But my father knows a truth. He knows that Jason’s list of four, in his heart, is unequivocally usually a list of one. He knows where Jason wants to go — and where Jason has to go. And so he usually sits there, between us, and quietly breaks it down.

“Let’s lay these options on a table,” he says. “You’ve got Florida State on there since I’m being rumored for that head-coaching job. You’ve got Seton Hall on there since Tommy Amaker is there, and we adore Tommy. And you’ve got Old Dominion on there since … well, let’s usually contend it: You’ve got Old Dominion on there since of me.”

Jason isn’t observant anything, nonetheless he’s nodding along slowly, nervously. This is a tough conversation. My father keeps his eyes on Jason and continues.

“And that leaves North Carolina, and, son — we have North Carolina on there since that’s where you’ve always wanted to go. That’s a propagandize we have on here since of you. And we wish we to listen to me closely, since this is important: You are a great player. And a manager in me would adore to manager you. But a father in me? The father in me knows that North Carolina is a best place for we to go.”

I’ve never seen as many relief, and love, and thankfulness on a person’s face, as we see on Jason’s face in that moment. Jason and we have spent a whole childhoods idolizing a dad, and rooting for him to attain as a coach. We’ve been there for each banishment and each hiring, each win and each loss. And we can tell how conflicted Jason is — how badly he wants to go to North Carolina, and perform his lifelong dream … nonetheless during a same time … how badly he wants to assistance perform my dad’s dreams, and give him a veteran delight that would come with alighting a tip 5 recruit. If my father tells him to go to Old Dominion, that day in my apartment, afterwards there’s not a doubt in my mind: He goes.

And so when my father not usually gives his blessing, nonetheless indeed encourages Jason to play for UNC, well: we can see a weight lift right off of my brother’s shoulders in genuine time. He knows how propitious he is, to have a father as his dad. In that moment, some-more than ever, we both do.

We finish make-up adult my stuff, and we expostulate a U-Haul home alone. Jason heads in a other direction, to Chapel Hill — where he commits to play basketball for North Carolina, that unequivocally same day.

My father comes with him.

It’s a open of 2001, we am 26 years old, and we am about to see my father cry for a first, and only, time in my life.

We’re in a locker room during Old Dominion — where he has usually been dismissed as a conduct basketball coach. After a clever start to his reign there, a program’s fortunes have taken a spin for a worse: 4 true seasons nonetheless an NCAA contest berth, and dual true seasons with a losing record. Fairly or not, many people during a propagandize have forked to my dad’s disaster to partisan Jason, in a open of ’97, as a impulse that things began to tumble apart. Why would we wish a coach, they reasoned, who didn’t even cruise a organisation was good adequate for his possess son?

My father doesn’t know it yet, as he calls a organisation in for a meeting, nonetheless this is a final time that he will ever residence a organisation of student-athletes as a conduct coach. Old Dominion is a final college coaching pursuit my father will ever have.

He breaks a news to a team, and it isn’t a large scene. There’s zero dramatic. He lets them know that he’s been dismissed — that this was a school’s decision. He lets them know that he didn’t quit — that he would never quit on them.

And afterwards he lets them know that all will be fine.

It’s gonna be fine, he says. It’s gonna be fine. And a organisation believes him, and we cruise we do too.

And afterwards he cries.

It’s a open of 2016, we am 41 years old, and we are walking out to a parking lot of a hospital. We’ve perceived my dad’s diagnosis, asked a questions, finished a conversations with a doctors and mapped out a plan. Now there is usually one thing left to do.

Everything else.

That’s a one thing they don’t tell we on Google, or on Wikipedia, or on WebMD, when you’re looking adult a disease. They don’t tell we that life goes on. They don’t tell we that we have to keep on going — as a son, as a husband, as a father, as a manager — even that unequivocally same day. That we somehow have to keep on being a person.

We don’t contend much: not in a corridors of a hospital, not in a conveyor down, and not on a approach to a cars. After all that’s happened today, no one unequivocally feels like talking. Though I’m not certain there’d be many to say, honestly, even if we wanted to. I adore you? See we later? Sorry we have ALS? Everything in that impulse possibly seems too ubiquitous or too specific, too nauseating or too crude. We contend a goodbyes and get in a apart cars. My mom drives off with my dad, streamer home.

And we conduct to work.

I expostulate behind to Duke, behind to a basketball trickery on campus. Park my car. Take a low breath. I’ve got this, we think. Then we travel into a building and conduct downstairs, toward a locker room, where we’re carrying a staff meeting. we get there mid-meeting — Coach K is articulate — and so we usually lay down. Try to focus. But whatever he’s observant … my mind can usually glitter over it. In my head, I’m still in that hospital. Still on Google, on Wikipedia, on WebMD. Still with my dad’s ALS.

After a assembly and practice, we go hit on Coach K’s bureau door. we ask if he has a second to chat.

Walking into that office, we can’t assistance nonetheless cruise about my father … nonetheless for a opposite reason. we cruise behind to how prepared we was to leave Duke, as a freshman, all of those years ago. And how my father is a one who talked me out of it, during that lunch during Damon’s. How my father saw something in Coach K — maybe a consanguine spirit, on some spin — and how he knew, in a approach that we usually couldn’t, that my tour during Duke was something value saying by to a end.

And how Coach K, a male we wouldn’t stop angry about during 18, has become, during 41, a usually chairman in a universe who we can conduct to contend a disproportion to. And so we contend them.

My father has ALS.

I lay down in Coach’s office, and tell him everything.

And afterwards we cry. we try not to mangle down, of march — nonetheless about median by we can usually feel it coming. Can feel a tears inching adult solemnly by my body, all a approach adult from my stomach, those deep-down tears that there’s no indicate even perplexing to quarrel off. And so we don’t quarrel them. we usually lay there, in a bureau of one of a biggest coaches in a story of basketball, and we cry, and we cry, and we cry.

It’s a winter of 2017, we am 41 years old, and a usually thing we know for certain is that my father is still here.

Some days are improved than others. There are days like a one where we come home after work, and say, “Hey, where’s Dad,” and there he is: in a backyard, sitting in his chair, celebration a drink and smoking a cigar, like aged times. But afterwards there are days like a one when he is scheduled to have a feeding tube put in — a preemptive magnitude that a doctors are recommending — and we can hear a agonise in his voice when he looks during me, and leans over, and whispers, “I don’t wish to do it.”

The best day was indeed 5 days. Every year on campus, Coach K binds a “fantasy camp” — called K Academy — for adults who are 35 and older. And K Academy ends adult doubling as a arrange of annual reunion for a Duke basketball family. Many of Coach K’s former players come behind to Durham for a week, to assistance out and manager a camp’s several teams. It’s always a good time, and one of my unequivocally favorite weeks of a year.

Last year, though, we didn’t come to K Academy alone. Instead, we brought in a good out-of-date ringer — a male with 35 years of coaching experience. Last year, my father was my assistant.

In this business, they contend that we can tell a genuine ones by profitable courtesy to who gets called “Coach.” Sure, all coaches get called “Coach,” to an extent. But with many of them, you’ll also get some “Mr. [whatever their final name is]” thrown in. Or some get called “sir.” Or — generally in a NBA — you’ll usually have guys regulating a coach’s initial name. But for a tiny organisation of coaches, a name few, it doesn’t matter where they are, or who’s articulate to them. Some people are usually “Coach,” always. No matter what. And that’s my dad.

And that’s how it went, for those 5 days during K Academy. we was Jeff. My father was Coach. we wish a week could have lasted forever.


Sometimes we feel a tiny guilty about how good I’ve had it, in my profession, compared to my dad. I’ve gotten to be a partial of this extraordinary coaching tree that Coach K has built here in Durham — and have been afforded some extraordinary opportunities as a result: conduct manager during 27, conduct manager of a high-major during 31, associate conduct manager of Duke during 39. My father had it so many tougher: entrance adult in a decade that was distant reduction welcoming for black coaches — and carrying to start during a high propagandize JV level, on his own, nonetheless any connections. And positively nonetheless any tree.

My father never once got a head-coaching event above mid-major … and we cruise him a many some-more successful manager than I’ve ever been. And like we said: Sometimes we feel guilty about that.

But afterwards we cruise behind to K Academy final summer, when my father was by my side. we remember a demeanour on his face, as we saw him see me: in my element, during Cameron Indoor Stadium, where we belong. And it was afterwards that we satisfied something we should have satisfied a prolonged time ago — something that we think, in a behind of my mind, I’ve always known.

A coaching tree … my father never unequivocally wanted one.

The usually tree my father has ever wanted, we now realize, is a family tree.

And he’s got one of a best ones around. It is a tree that he has loved, and protected, and nourished, for all of his life — by thick and by thin. And as he enters what we wish will be a unequivocally prolonged twilight of that life, and as Jason and we both have kids and families of a own, he can rest assured: that his tree is in full bloom. With a clever base, and a high trunk, and branches that are usually usually now commencement to strech out into a world. That’s his tree. And that’s his legacy.


My dad’s ALS, we am unhappy to report, continues to progress. We are fighting — always fighting — nonetheless still, in a end, we are remaining realistic. The law is: ALS will take my dad’s speech; and it will take my dad’s movement; and yes, there is a good possibility that it will eventually take his life.

But it ain’t ever entrance for his tree.

That tree belongs to Jeff Capel Jr. — and it will grow, and it will last. And we know this because, on a day when it does, finally, come time to contend goodbye, dozens and dozens of people are going to rally in a tiny city in North Carolina. And they are going to compensate their respects, and share their stories: About what an honest infantryman he was. And what a scrupulous leader. And what a good coach. And what a good man.

And me? I’m usually going to skip my dad.



Throughout my whole life, I’ve schooled a significance of teams. Growing up, we was always around my dad’s basketball teams, and my own. And it’s since of a best organisation I’ve ever been on — a one of my dad, my mom, my hermit and me — that I’ve spin a male we am today. Now, a 4 of us are fasten another team: a millions around a universe fighting to find a heal for ALS. This is a biggest plea we’ve ever faced, nonetheless we’re prepared to face it a usually approach we know how: as a team. We’ve partnered with a Duke ALS Clinic in Durham, NC to settle a Jeff Capel Jr. ALS Research Fund. It is a enterprise to lift supports to support their investigate efforts, with an ultimate idea of anticipating a cure. To learn some-more about how to join us in a fight, greatfully click here.

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