by Matt Luppino, Proud Cameron Crazie
Krzyzewski is pronounced Shĭ-SHĔSS-kī. If you do not know that at Duke, you will be properly taught how to say it, guaranteed. Because Mike Krzyzewski is the head coach of our perennial powerhouse men’s basketball team. But we just call him Coach K to make it easier on everyone.
Yesterday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the St. Johns Red Storm by a score of 77-68. With the victory, Coach K accumulated his 1,000th win as a head coach, the first men’s coach in NCAA history to accomplish the feat (Tennessee Lady Volunteers’ Pat Summitt holds the record with 1,098, though she is now retired due to her battle with Alzheimer’s disease). Through it all, Krzyzewski has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the history of the sport by setting himself apart.
Think of the best coaches in college basketball history and what they are known for. John Wooden was one of the first coaches to every play the zone press defense, and it led to unrivaled success at UCLA. Jim Valvano (most notably of NC State) and Bob Knight (most notably of Indiana) were known as intense competitors and motivators, with matching electric personalities. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is renowned for his use of the 2-3 zone on defense. Louisville’s Rick Pitino employs the full court press. John Calipari is a master recruiter, bring the best recruits in the country to Kentucky, making them contenders, watching them leave for the NBA after a year, then do it all over again.
As for Coach K, well, he is not a devout disciple of any particular styles of basketball. However, it is the manner in which Coach K goes about his business that makes him special. Michael William Krzyzewski comes from humble beginnings in the Polish quarter of Chicago. He and his friends played basketball there. When no one at their school wanted to coach them, Mike became player/coach. He went on to play point guard at United States Military Academy in West Point from 1966-1969 under Bob Knight, whom he would eventually surpass as the winningest coach in men’s basketball history. Following a tour of service and a one-year stint as an assistant coach under Knight at Indiana, Krzyzewski officially became Coach K, ascending to the top spot at his alma mater in 1975. He coached there for five seasons before moving to Durham, NC, to coach the Blue Devils in 1980. He hasn’t left. Under his tutelage, Duke won their first national title and then 3 more in 13 Final Four appearances. He has piloted the program to 13 ACC Tournament championships as well.
Throughout his various points in life, however, he has always acted the same way—with a class all his own. It is what keeps players loyal to him throughout. Coach K does not just coach basketball here at Duke; he shapes young athletes into men, whether they continue their careers or not. Coach K has always been grounded, downplaying his superstar status; he expects his players to do the same. He emphasizes to his team that they are student-athletes, and being a student comes first; players maintain a full course load during all of their semesters on campus. He also wants them to enjoy their college experience and live the life of normal students when they are away from the bright lights of Cameron Indoor. They study, just like we do. They walk and eat across campus, just like we do. They go out, just like we do. Besides being freakishly tall and athletically gifted, they are still Duke students aspiring to bright futures, whether in the NBA or not, and care deeply about what they are learning and what they intend on doing with their educations.
The most recent players at Duke follow the same mantra that Coach K preaches. Last year’s freshman phenom, Jabari Parker, was the #2 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, but returned to the university in the summer as he works to complete his degree; Jahlil Okafor, this year’s star and anticipated #1 pick, intends to do the same. Marshall Plumlee is enrolled in Duke’s ROTC program, and contracted this past Friday to join the army following his graduation next year. Quinn Cook, this year’s captain, has already completed his degree in marketing and intends to pursue a career in entrepreneurship should he not enter the NBA after this season.
Coach K is also very ingrained with the university as a whole. Multiple times, he was offered positions in the NBA, most recently in 2011 with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his heart is here in North Carolina. He assists the university in many ways, often speaking at events on campus. He recently helped to fund the building of a new academic center for the school’s student-athletes, acting as a study hall and counseling hub for athletes of every sport, not just his own, which is why the K Center is named in his honor.
The game yesterday was vintage Coach K. The team, for the first 30 minutes of play, was being outhustled by the sharpshooting Red Storm and struggled to find rhythm on the offensive end. With 8:15 remaining in the second half and the score 61-51, Coach K called a timeout. He was not screaming his head off like many coaches would have in this situation. Under the mounting pressure of the national media on his team for the pending milestone, there was the Hall of Fame coach, cool as a cucumber, patiently devising a way to get his team back on track. When all was said and done, the Blue Devils outscored St. Johns 26-7 over those 8 minutes.
In the middle of it all was Coach K, orchestrating his team through the tumult while visibly cheering them on and getting excited when the team turned the ship around. And once the final horn blared, a touch of relief exuded from him. But because he got the win, not because it was number 1000. That is the way Coach K is: it is all about his team winning. Doesn’t matter how, whether it’s a total drubbing or a missed buzzer beater, as long as Duke scored more points than the other guys. That is why the T-shirts celebrating Coach K say “1000 Wins And Counting…”, because he is not done yet.
It might not seem it, but Mike Krzyzewski is a unique basketball coach tailor-made to be successful. He knows how to coach his men on and off the court in order for them to succeed, and he cares just as much about this school as his team. He is gritty, unwavering and passionate, yet humble. He is probably one of the most unassuming basketball coaches out there, with his small stature and high eyebrows, but his brain and heart are stronger than anyone out there. He is classy, for sure, but he does it his way, and he’s good at what he does.
All in all, there is only one Coach K, and now he stands alone at 1K wins.
Congratulations, Coach. You’ve earned every single one of them.