As the buzzer sounded on Monday evening, the Duke Blue Devils celebrated happily after their win over Virginia. It wasn’t easy mind you, but who thought it would be over a pesky and hot Cavaliers team?
Still, this Duke team came together more than some might realize and they did so in a way that could be a starting point moving forward. It was no surprise to see the Captain, Mike Krzyzewski take the blame for his teams recent play, where they came into the game 1-2 in the ACC.
It was on the day after the Christmas holidays that his brother, whom he’s extremely close to passed in a most untimely and unexpected way.
Unlike many folks, it is not as easy for Krzyzewski to have taken time off during a tragic moment in that the Duke Basketball machine is a college basketball behemoth which is driven to success by the all time wins leader in NCAA Basketball history.
He was visibly shaken before the game against Eastern Michigan, mere hours after he received the disturbing news and that wasn’t easy to see.
Anyhow, it was certainly not my place to have mentioned his brothers passing as fans wondered aloud later what had gotten into their team.
Kryzyzewski is a private person with concern to family like many of us are, so all I could do is send a prayer his way and allow him to mention the news in his own time.
A few days later it came out in an obituary form in the Chicago paper and then it became public. But the last thing the family seemed to want was a circus atmosphere of well wishers when he probably needed to work through things on his own.
Working through things is something Coach Krzyzewski is pretty good at per history and in time he will come to grips with the hole which currently resides in his heart.
And he’ll work things out on the court as well. Krzyzewski took the heat off his team with his post game comments and this allows them to start fresh. It was clear that Krzyzewski had implemented another master plan for a win Monday evening while instilling confidence at the same time.
He knew his team was tired and mentioned this prominently in the post game, taking the blame for not substituting properly as he dealt with difficult personal issues.
So the strategy was to keep five fresh players in at all times and for the first time in a while, he would platoon his players and they responded wonderfully. Krzyzewski likely knew his teams confidence was shaken against Clemson, so he involved all in an effort to turn their fortunes around.
It may sound unusual to say that Krzyzewski is underrated as a tactician, but I think it goes underappreciated once some of his moves happen. If you go back and look at the history of Duke Basketball, he’s made several key moves and won when the media and fans thought his team was doomed to swoon.
This is the guy who plugged a football player in Reggie Love in the middle before a UNC game where Duke won easily over their rival. Also, in 2001, he flipped Chris Duhon into the backcourt with about ten games left in the season, sending current assistant coach Nate James to the bench as the sixth man and both flourished in their roles and energized the team.
How about the time when he inserted Jordan Davidson into the starting lineup against Chris Paul. Davidson, a walk on played just a few minutes but he got the Crazies and the team pumped out of their heads.
Most recently, during his last NCAA title run, the moves were too numerous to mention.
Current assistant Jon Scheyer had been inserted into the PG spot the year before late in the season as was an athletic Elliot Williams on the wing. But Williams unexpectedly transferred to Memphis at the midnight hour the following season.
Duke adjusted. And nobody picked them to win it all. In fact, they were considered un-athletic and too slow, but enter Brian Zoubek and a slower pace and a crystal trophy would ensue.
It would take ten thousand or more words to accurately document Krzyewski’s moves but you get the general picture. Moving forward, I doubt we’ll see the platoon system as much, but there will be other moves made for they always are.
The crazy thing is that move back to a shorter bench will be questioned, just like playing time is for certain players. Fans generally see all the on ball stuff but fail to watch players off ball or where players are on defense. After all, this is the age of ESPN ready players where people look for the three ball or the dunk to wow them ignoring the many other aspects of the game.
It never fails to amaze me that some will question a coach in any way with his credentials with concern to strategy. This man and his staff see the players on a daily basis and not a soul catches practice or is aware of any kind of external issue with players be it injuries or private matters.
If anybody knows how to win, it is Mike Krzyzewski and it is probably easier for me to overlook a so-called swoon in that I have followed the program for a long time and have witnessed crazy success.
In that time, I have seen Coach K make constant moves and most of them work out.
There will be more ebbs and flows as the season unfolds, but don’t be surprised if Duke doesn’t once again make a deep run when it counts.
“I’m human,” stated Mike Krzyzewski with concern to mourning the loss of his brother. Well, you have had some not typical human success at Duke, Coach. And perhaps you will have to find it in your heart to forgive those who think you are made of steel.