Coach Krzyzewski sets NCAA wins record
By defeating Michigan State 74-69 last night at Madison Square Garden, Duke University head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history, surpassing the total established by his former coach and mentor Bob Knight. Given his desire to continue coaching and consistent ability to attract some of the nation’s top recruits, Krzyzewski appears well positioned to put this particular record well out of reach.
On the heels of this historic victory, Krzyzewski storied career is worth celebrating and reflecting on. He was a controversial hire by Duke back in 1980, as at the time he wasn't well known, had only a few years of head coaching experience, and was expected to turn around a historically insignificant basketball program and compete with the myriad of strong teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). After struggling for a few years, Krzyzewski eventually built Duke into a college basketball power and one of the top programs in the country. Renowned for his hard work, intensity, and for getting the most out of his players, Coach K’s Duke squads have been to eleven Final Fours and won four NCCA Championships. Duke is regularly near the top of the polls, and through the force of Krzyzewski’s ability and personality he has developed an almost cult like following at his school (see Krzyzewskiville). Krzyzewski is also well-respected by his peers and beloved by his former players, many of whom remain at Duke as his assistant coaches.
As a Duke hater from way back, I take any victory by Coach K with a degree of begrudging respect. I followed Duke’s ascent in my formative years as they were in the Final Four practically every spring. During this period (’86-’90) they were the team that just couldn’t seem to get over the hump and win the big one. I actually felt sorry Duke after they were rolled by UNLV by a score of 103-73 in the 1990 NCAA Championship game, as Jerry Tarkanian’s Running Rebels were portrayed as the bullies roughing up the clean-cut (largely white) Dukies. I cheered when they defeated the seemingly invincible Rebels in the 1991 Final Four, and after beating Kansas to win their 1st National Championship they were no longer the bridesmaids of college basketball.
Much has changed to alter my feelings regarding Krzyzewski and his program since that time. I think the seeds of discontent began the following year, as they ran head to head against the Fab Five led Michigan club that seemed infinitely more appealing and talented than Duke, yet couldn’t seem to beat them on the court. This infuriated me to no end and over time my attitude towards Duke has deteriorated to an even greater degree, as they seem to consistently turn out quality squads that appear to look and act the same year after year. Other annoying trends surrounding Duke’s basketball program started to gain traction as well, including such behavior as the floor slapping by both players and coaches, the constant flopping by Duke players to get charges, the Cameron Crazies, Coach K’s whining and bullying of referees, Dickie V’s love affair of Coach K and all things Duke (declared openly in each Duke game he calls…seems like he calls at least 75% of all Duke games televised on ESPN), and the media’s overall pro-Duke sentiments. Additionally, over time we have had to deal with the general antics of players such as Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Steve Wojciechowski, Greg Paulus, J.J. Redick, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler to name just a few. And is just me or does Duke seem to get a favorable draw in the NCCA tournament each year (see 2010 NCAA South Region bracket)? Yes, I am well aware this is all sour grapes on my part, but it doesn’t stop me and my friends from sending out congratulatory texts after Duke loses either a big game or in the NCAA tournament.
Despite my anti-Duke sentiments, I still have a great deal of appreciation for the work Coach Krzyzewski has done for college basketball. He runs a great program, his players compete every minute, and he has managed to turn an elite private school into a basketball power. Coach K’s work with Team USA can’t be discounted, as he directed the men’s national team to a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. This further enhanced his legacy, as the buy-in and commitment to play he received from the likes of Lebron, D-Wade, and Kobe illustrates how respected he is among the game’s greats. Duke also plays the role of villain well, as even the school’s many detractors must admit that every sport needs a polarizing team (i.e. the Yankees, Cowboys/Patriots, Lakers) that is either loved or hated. If Duke wasn’t set in this role college basketball definitely wouldn’t be as exciting.
Last night at the Garden was a great ceremony that honored one of the top coaches in any sport, and for the good of college basketball I hope Coach Krzyzewski sticks around for many years to come. Not only for his numerous contributions to the game but also for personal reasons, as I’d love to see my SU Orangemen attempt to knock around the Dukies a couple times each year when they join the ACC.