He’s trying to lead a young Duke team to a fourth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title, attempting to lead the U.S. national team to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and is on the verge of becoming the winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history.
And the record is all anyone wants to talk about, except Krzyzewski.
The longtime Duke coach is about to pass Bob Knight, but Krzyzewski, a point guard on Knight’s Army teams in the 1960s, downplays the milestone because he said his mentor should have more victories.
“I can put the wins record in perspective, because Coach is my coach,” Krzyzewski said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I know if he had stayed at Indiana, he might still be coaching, and he would have had I don’t know how many wins, and no one would have won as many games as him.”
Pretty soon they’ll say the same thing about Krzyzewski, who enters his 37th season as a college coach with a record of 900-284 – two victories shy of Knight. He can tie him Nov. 12 at home against Presbyterian and pass him three nights later against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
For Krzyzewski, the inevitable march toward history isn’t about a specific number, but the company it puts him in. Virtually every conversation he has about the impending record includes praise for Knight.
Knight, now an ESPN analyst who did not respond to interview requests, retired from coaching in 2008 late in his seventh season at Texas Tech. During his coaching career, he led Indiana to three national championships and the last undefeated season in Division I.
“I just think it’s cool that my head coach and I were the two first guys to hit 900,” Krzyzewski said. “And I think that’s unbelievable, that a coach and one of his players could do that, which I think says a lot for the guy who’s the coach. It says a lot more for the guy who’s a coach than the guy who’s a player.”
Those who have played for Krzyzewski – and coached both with and against him – say the record, in fact, says plenty about the motivator and tactician who’s best known by his job title and his last initial.
Former Duke player and longtime Krzyzewski assistant Johnny Dawkins, now the coach at Stanford, has said he hopes Krzyzewski sticks around to surpass 1,000 wins because of the impact he’s made on the game. Another former Duke star, Grant Hill, said what impresses him is the way Krzyzewski adapts to the changing generations and structures his style to fit.
“Mike has been the face of college basketball,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. “There for a while, it was (Dean) Smith and coach Knight. Since that time, it’s been Mike more than anybody else. I hate losing to them. It’s been some of the toughest things I’ve had to put up with. … But it’s impossible for me to respect what he’s accomplished more than I do. I mean, 900 wins is off the charts.”
In some respects, it has worked out better for Duke that Krzyzewski can break the record during the relative calm of the early season. It could have fallen last March during the NCAA tournament – win No. 903 could have come in the Final Four – but Arizona upset the Blue Devils in the West Regional semifinals.
Now, Krzyzewski can take care of the record by Thanksgiving, then get back to the business of molding the sixth-ranked Blue Devils into a contender in hopes of capturing a fourth straight ACC tournament crown.
His 32nd Duke team might rank as one of his biggest, with four players who are 6-foot-10 or taller, and that’s a similar blueprint followed by his most recent national championship team in 2010. In between, the Blue Devils were driven by the speed and quickness of ACC player of the year Nolan Smith and, when he was healthy, flashy point guard Kyrie Irving.
Instead of demanding that his players adjust to fit a rigid system, Krzyzewski has always adjusted the way he wants his teams to play to better fit the players he has, and that has helped the 64-year-old stay young and fresh.
“Being able to change according to the personnel that you have is refreshing,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want J.J. Redick to be with you all the time. … But the new influx of players with different talents, where they are, and trying to figure out how to use them and change your offensive system to take advantage of the skills that they have … that’s refreshing.”
The coach said young players can “wear you out, too,” but that it’s a “cool thing” when it call clicks for them, pointing to the progress freshman point guard Austin Rivers has made since his arrival at Duke.
“It’s exciting to think, where will he be by December? And then January and by the end of the year, so that’s a different way than you would coach (Kyle) Singler, Smith and (Jon) Scheyer” Krzyzewski said. “That keeps it really interesting, and you have to adapt. … You get into a certain way of teaching and now you have to change it, and it’s how you present things and what you present to them It’s not the same stuff over and over again.”
Krzyzewski also is keeping an eye on the ongoing NBA lockout.
As the coach of the U.S. national team, he will try to lead the squad to another gold medal at the London Olympics. He said USA Basketball needs a contingency plan in case there is no NBA season or if a late-starting season extends deep into the summer, possibly overlapping into preparation for the Olympics.
“There’s a lot of areas of concern from our perspective, but the main area is for the good of the game,” he said. “I hope (the lockout) doesn’t last that long because not having the highest form of basketball being played in your country is not a good thing. Some people would say the collegiate game, that’ll help it. I don’t look at it that way.
“I just want the best basketball that can be played at our level being played, and the best basketball played at the NBA level being played.”No tags for this post.