USA TODAY US Edition
Players, peers look at Coach K’s career,
Duke icon nears win record, too
DURHAM, N.C. — For the last three decades, Mike Krzyzewski has inspired countless members of his men’s basketball teams.
Yet he’s at a loss to describe the emotional charge coaching has given him in recent years, during which he led Duke to the NCAA title last season, won a world title with the national team last summer and coached the USA to a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.
“I don’t think I needed a rejuvenation,” Krzyzewski says. “I was doing pretty good. I was juvenated higher.”
He laughs a little and adds, “There’s no such word.”
In 36 years as a head coach, Krzyzewski has amassed 900 college victories. By Saturday night he could tie his mentor, Bob Knight, who left the game in 2008 with 902 wins, first in Division I men’s basketball.
“There is nobody I would have liked to have seen do it than Mike,” Knight, now an ESPN analyst, said on a recent broadcast.
Knight, who recruited Krzyzewski to play at Army from Chicago’s Weber High, also said Krzyzewski was due for many more wins, adding, “That total may never be broken.”
No. 1 seed Duke (32-4) plays fifth-seeded Arizona (29-7) today in a West Regional semifinal in Anaheim, Calif. With a win, Duke would play Saturday in the regional final against Connecticut or San Diego State.
Between four national titles at Duke and the revival of the national team, Krzyzewski has become an iconic figure, up there with John Wooden, considered the game’s greatest coach after 10 NCAA titles at UCLA.
“He’s probably in a position nowto have more of an influence and impact than others in previous times,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon says. “I wouldn’t take away from Coach Wooden in that, but it’s a different time and more people can get films, go to their practices, see the action. The game has grown. More people are watching.
“His involvement in USA Basketball brings him to another level, as well. It’s only growing.”
At 64, Krzyzewski says he’s still learning. During the satellite radio show he hosts, he takes copious notes whether interviewing football Hall of Famer John Madden or a fellow college coach.
“I love those conversations,” he says. “Sometimes you pick up the way somebody says something. I find that with my staff. They might be more current. They’ll use a word or an expression, and it’s better than what I had.
“I’m more open to learning in the last five or six years than at any other time. A lot of it has to do with USA Basketball and being around so many people to learn from — the players, the coaches, (USA Basketball senior team director) Jerry Colangelo. It’s been a really good time for me.”
All-America guard Nolan Smith says the coach rarely puts down his notepad. “He’s not too great yet to get better, and that’s crazy that he still wants to be better,” Smith says.
Teambuilding is strength
Of all the words Mike Dunleavy heard from Krzyzewski while playing at Duke from 2000 to 2002, two stand out for him: shoot it.
They came during the 2001 national title game against Arizona. Dunleavy, mired in a slump, had the ball near the top of the key by the Duke bench. He had a second or two to think about what to do. His gut told him to pass on the NBA-range threepointer. Krzyzewski knew better.
“I heard him from the side of my right ear,” says Dunleavy, a guard for the Indiana Pacers. “He said, ‘Shoot it.’ He knew I was thinking about letting it go. I made the shot and scored (21) points to help us win.”
Dunleavy thinks Krzyzewski could thrive coaching any sport. “It’s the team-building stuff,” he says. “That was probably his greatest strength. The way he communicated with every single player on the team. . . . It didn’t matter if you were the leading scorer or a walk-on. . . . Nobody was left out. That’s howyoubuild a team, bringing together the collective parts.”
Jon Scheyer, a captain on last year’s NCAA title team, remem- bers a team meeting in his freshman season in Krzyzewski’s office, not the fancy office with expensive furniture but a windowless cave filled with photos of his family, friends and players.
“We were watching film,” Scheyer says. “I remember Coach was talking about a lot of things we needed to correct. He said, ‘If these guys keep working as hard as they are, they’re going to win a national championship before they’re done here. There’s no question about it.’
“He said it with such confidence that it never left my mind. That gave me a whole other level of belief.”
An engaging speaker, Krzyzewski can be standoffish. For years he pulled back from public view, except for coaching, and developed a reputation for being inaccessible. He has his assistants do live TV interviews at halftime of games, while other head coaches do them themselves.
Some of this came with reaching a celebrity stratosphere few are familiar with in college sports. He says the demands becametoo great and he couldn’t fulfill one request without creating a stir for declining others.
That hasn’t stopped him from becoming a brand name. He is in demand on the lecture circuit, hosts the satellite radio show, writes books and does commercials. Income for all of that comes on top of a salary that earned him nearly $4.2 million in 2008, the latest figure available from Duke.
“You make money,” he says of his income. “My grandkids can go to school. I can dothings I want to do with (charities). I’m not trying to teach a gospel or try to get my movement going. I would rather have my players and assistant coaches interviewed. My program is wide open with that.”
Yet insulating himself has been costly in the sense that he can be perceived as too demanding. Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who played on the national team last summer, has said he thought Krzyzewski would be strict and mean, only to realize the coach is funny, “cool” and gives players freedom on the court.
He hasn’t lost his edge, though, plainly seen in his animated reactions to calls during games. Last season, according to The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer, he reacted to a story in the Duke student newspaper with a dismissive: “We’re No. 2 in the RPI, and the first article is, ‘Bench (Kyle) Singler.’ Happy New Year. Unbelievable.”
Still, that’s a long way from 20 years ago, when he famously gave a profane lecture to several members of the student paper.
He has loosened up a bit, perhaps in part because of his work with USA Basketball. He and Colangelo inherited a program in disarray and in need of an image change and sponsorship dollars.
He has been a public relations boon for a program that seemed chained to aloof players after the Dream Teams of the 1990s.
“I think he’s enjoying where he’s at,” Duke associate coach and former player Chris Collins says. “He feels confident he’s as good as he’s ever been.”