September 15th Will Be “Mike Krzyzewski Day”Posted by nvr1983 on August 24th, 2010
The past two years have been very good for Mike Krzyzewski. In addition to taking Duke back to the top of the college basketball world last April, he also led Team USA back to the top of the international basketball world (not that there was any doubt as long as we brought the “A team”) in Beijing. An inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, he has won almost every title (four NCAA championships, 12 ACC championships in both the regular season and conference tournament, and an Olympic gold medal) and received almost every award (three Naismith College Cach of the Year Awards, two Basketball Times National Coach of the Year Awards, a NABC National Coach of the Year Award, and five ACC Coach of the Year Awards) that he could be expected to win.
To add to that, earlier today the city of Chicago announced that it would make this September 15th into “Mike Krzyzewski Day” (over/under on misspelled signs and posters: 130) on the same day that he will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and receive the Ray Meyer College Coach of the Year Award. [Ed. Note: We aren’t expecting Chicago great and Duke-hater Michael Jordan to be in attendance.] Coach K, a native of Chicago, graduated from Archbishop Weber High School before matriculating to the Army where he played under a fairly decent coach named Bob Knight. A solid but unspectacular guard at Army, he served in the Army for three years and coached at a prep school for two years before joining Knight as an assistant at Indiana where he left just before the 1975-76 season (the last undefeated Division I team) to take over as the head coach at Army. Although he compiled a 73-59 record at Army, he went 9-17 in his last season before getting an offer from Duke to become their head coach (a classic case of failing upwards). His first three years at Duke were not much more successful as after a merely mediocre rookie campaign he went a combined 21-34 over his second and third seasons. At that point many critics suspected Krzyzewski’s days in Durham were numbered, but little did they know that the freshman class that season (Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson, and Jay Bilas) would wind up being one of the greatest classes in the school’s history. After that group made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in their sophomore and junior campaigns they took off as seniors in what is widely considered one of the finest seasons in college basketball history. That group entered the championship game with a 37-2 record against a Denny Crum-led Louisville team before falling by three points to freshman sensation “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison and the Cardinals.
Following that crushing defeat Krzyzewski rebounded, leading his team to seven Final Fours in nine seasons (probably the modern day equivalent of John Wooden‘s miraculous run). Still, by the 1991 Final Four in Indianapolis, many media members and fans were wondering if Krzyzewski, who had made it to four of the last five Final Fours, had what it took to win the title. Standing in his way were the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels whom we ranked as the greatest team of the 64-team era. The Rebels entered the game as heavy favorites having gone 34-0 and knocking off a similar Duke team by a record 30-point margin in the previous year’s championship game. In one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, the Blue Devils, led by junior Christian Laettner, sophomore Bobby Hurley, and freshman Grant Hill, knocked off UNLV by a score of 79-77. Much like the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey team that won its most famous game in the semifinals, the Blue Devils still had to close the deal in the championship game, which they did, against a Kansas team coached by Roy Williams, a man whom Krzyzewski has become more familiar with in recent years. The following season, the Blue Devils became the first team to repeat since the 1973 UCLA team with the highlight coming in the Elite 8 in a game against Rick Pitino and Kentucky that is widely considered the greatest college basketball game of all-time and one of the greatest games of all-time in any sport.
After reaching heights of college basketball that few have experienced, Krzyzewski had, by his standards, a lackluster stretch that featured the lone highlight of Grant Hill, now a senior, carrying the Blue Devils on his back to the championship game before succumbing to Nolan Richardson and Arkansas on a late Scotty Thurman rainbow three. The following season, however, was one of the lowest points in his career as he was sidelined by back surgery and took off the rest of the season before infamously petitioning the NCAA to ensure that Duke’s horrid record that season was put under his assistant Pete Gaudet‘s name. Krzyzewski returned the following season, but he hadn’t fully returned to his expected position in the college basketball world until the 1998-99 season when the Blue Devils fielded what is likely the best or second best (versus the 1992 team) team in Duke history. Unfortunately for Duke, they ran into a Connecticut team that was simply on that night although many will argue to this day that the Blue Devils had the superior team. Duke would have to wait another two years before Jason (not Jay) Williams and Shane Battier led them to Coach K’s third title after a win over Lute Olson and Arizona.
The following decade would be a trying one for Coach K and the Blue Devils after several hyped recruits turned out to be huge busts and some questioned his recruiting methods as he seemed to be going after less talented players who would stay four years over the uber-talented “one-and-dones” that other big-name coaches were recruiting. In fact, it was just a year ago that we came out with our programs of the decade feature where the Blue Devils finished a very respectable (albeit controversial) 4th, but were three spots behind their bitter rivals UNC. Given the precipitous drop in Duke’s brand appeal, we even questioned whether Duke was losing some of its cachet and whether Coach K’s commitment to Team USA was hurting Duke basketball. After an inspired run to the title over Butler, though, and a loaded returning group for the upcoming season, we are left to celebrate Coach K for making all of us look like fools by managing to have his cake and eat it too.