The Duke Blue Devils made easy work of Presbyterian today and in the process earned Coach Mike Krzyzewski his 902nd win which ties him with his mentor, Bobby Knight. Krzyzewski has played the record low key for a good while now, choosing instead to focus on his team, but there was some emotion today as his players met him after his ESPN interview.
Having been around Coach for several years now, it was clear to me that he was taken aback and he may have finally realized his soon to be accomplishment as the winningest coach in NCAA Basketball history. “I know it’s big thing. I’m not minimizing it but it really will happen and the development of my team will only happen right now,” said Coach during his press conference.
That’s Coach K being Coach K, thinking of his team first but for the first time today, I think it dawned on him that he is in rare air. As I sat through the post game interview session, I realized that I was seated in front of greatness and that few had been able to be as close to a legend as I have been fortunate enough to be. Actually, I have known that and have been fortunate to have such close proximity to the juggernaut program.
I’ve thought about writing about my experiences with Coach Krzyzewski and the program but thought that there would be so much out there in the coming days, that it would get lost in the shuffle. But I can tell you that I believed in Coach from the day I first saw him being introduced as the next coach of Duke University. Well, not at first day or at least not that day, but soon thereafter. That first day was on the side of Cameron Indoor Stadium an he was with his family as he was introduced as the next Duke Basketball coach.
Nobody in the local media could spell his name and most called him “Kroozywooski,” or something similar. The man was a fish out of water being from Chicago suddenly finding himself in the slow paced South where he had to get accustomed to many things. Fortunately for Duke fans, he adjusted but nobody on this earth thought they would be seeing what they are now, that being he is one win away from 903 wins.
Practices weren’t as tight back then, and I used to sit in on a few. Many thought he was stubborn, running a man to man defense instead of zone and in truth his early teams struggled mightily playing that defense. But, he stuck by his guns for he was developing a system and that is what I saw from the stands that day. To say that system has been successful is an understatement.
I realized then, that when Coach got the right players for the system he would be successful. The was a year when he missed the likes of Chris Mullin and other stellar recruits, finishing second, but his breakthrough class of Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie and David Henderson would soon follow.
And he gave Duke fans something they had not seen in a while, consistent winning and NCAA Final Four appearances became standard fare for the Duke program overtime. I will also never forget as a fans, that loss to Louisville for it was the most pain I have experienced as a fan. The reason being they came so close and those kids went through a losing season before completely buying into what Coach was selling.
And you know what? Some now famous Duke fans that get Cameron going led the way with a petition for his firing one day and had that gone through before year three or four, none of this would have come about. Duke fans should count their blessings and be thankful.
The memories Coach Krzyzewski has allowed me are endless and he has brought a lot of joy to my life as a fan. I was here from the very start when he was just a young buck and I have watched in amazement and glee at the accomplishments, so vast that at times I have to pinch myself. I could go on forever but why do so, for the ride is still going and just like Krzyzewski told me during ACC Media Day, there will be a time to reflect but right now there is more basketball to be played. That said, I will save those stories for another day.