One For The Thumb


Mike Krzyzewski

Greatness is the best word to best describe Duke Blue Devils men’s head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. Fresh off of winning his fifth national championship at Duke, Krzyzewski is flying high. Krzyzewski has five national titles to go along with 12 appearances in the Final Four and his two gold medals in the Summer Olympics as the head coach of the United States Men’s Basketball Team. Coach K has drawn the admiration from folks on the collegiate level to those in the NBA for his innate ability to win and get his message across at the same time.

Krzyzewski has been at it at Duke since 1980 and he has sent a litany of players to the NBA that includes Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, and current NBA Players such as Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick just to name a few. Krzyzewski has won more games than anyone else in the history of Division One men’s college basketball and he has accomplished it because he knows how to roll with the punches.

Since 1980 when Krzyzewski first arrived at Duke, the landscape of college basketball has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of the four-year players in college basketball as the idea of playing for free and the name on the front of the jersey has been pushed aside in favor the money and the chance to play in the NBA. In the old days, it was the seniors and the head coaches who were the big men on campus. But now freshman arrive to college as stars with their own entourages. And instead of Krzyzewski shying away from the new school he has embraced them.

From 1990-1992, Duke made three consecutive Final Four appearances with consecutive national championships as a part of it. The 1992 Blue Devils were led by upperclassmen such as Laettner and swigman Brian Davis who were seniors along with junior point guard Bobby Hurley. And when Coach K got Duke back to the Final Four in 1994, it was senior forwards Hill and Antonio Lang that carried the team.

But when Coach K missed the majority of the 1994-1995 season as the result of back surgery, he took time to reflect and adjust his style. And once he returned to Duke in search of rebuilding his beloved program, his new philosophy worked. In 1997, Krzyzewski brought in a group of highly touted players to Duke that included forwards Elton Brand and Shane Battier. Brand and Battier would help Duke get back to the Final Four in 1999. But Brand would leave school to become the first overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft while Battier would stay all four years in helping Duke claim their third national title under Coach K in 2001. Along with Brand, sophomore guard William Avery and freshman swingman Corey Maggette would leave Duke in 1999 in pursuit of their NBA dreams and Krzyzewski didn’t slow down a bit. Duke’s 1999 freshman class consisted of point guard Jason Williams, small forward Mike Dunleavy, and power forward Carlos Boozer. This trio would team with Battier who was a senior in 2001 to help Duke and Krzyzewski claim their third national title.

And as Krzyzewski and Duke continued to have success in the 2000’s in the Atlantic Coast Conference but falter in the NCAA Tournament, the professor went old-school in 2010 as he claimed another national title with a team that wasn’t loaded with stars.

(l-r), Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Tyes Jones

But since then Krzyzewski has seen his fair share of one-an-done prodigies play for him at Cameron Indoor Stadium from Irving, Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, and Milwaukee Bucks small forward Jabari Parker. This season it was a trio of freshman in point guard Tyus Jones, swingman Justise Winslow, and center Jahlil Okafor the led Duke to the promised land. And if and when these freshman decide to bounce for the NBA, Coach K won’t skip a beat as the top high school basketball players in the United States want to come to Duke because they know that he can help to get them to the NBA.

Krzyzewski played college basketball at Army under Hall of Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight. Knight developed the reputation and nickname of “The General” and when he left Army in 1971 to become the men’s head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, he continued to rule with an iron fist. Knight was one of the most successful basketball coaches ever as he led Indiana to three national championships. But after Knight’s last Final Four appearance in 1992, his remaining years on the sidelines that were split between Indiana and the Texas Tech Red Raiders were unceremonious at best. Whereas Krzyzewski adjusted to the game, Knight never did as he still believed in his “my way or the highway” philosophy. Because of this, Knight’s style alienated him from a new generation of top-tier basketball recruits and he left the game with a whimper while Coach K is still at the top of the heap.

Krzyzewski was able to adjust which goes back to his time working with the United States Olympic teams. Prior to taking over as the United States head basketball coach in 2006, Krzyzewski was an assistant coach for Chuck Daly during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for the famed “Dream Team”. With the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley on that team, Krzyzewski saw more than ever what it was to deal with multiple personalities and also to treat men as men. Krzyzewski primarily deals with young men at Duke, but as the head coach of United States Men’s basketball, he has received supreme admiration from some of the current best players in the NBA such as Cavaliers small LeBron James, Clippers point guard Chris Paul, and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant has had a long affinity for Krzyzewski as Duke would have been his college destination had he not decided to make the jump straight from high school to the NBA in 1996.

So when Krzyzewski cut down the nets this past Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, he merely added to his glowing resume. Krzyzewski has sent countless players to the NBA and more importantly turned boys into men. Where some coaches have basketball programs, Krzyzewski truly has a basketball family which is why they always come back to show him the same love that he has always showed them.


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