Sports

Coach K’s legacy, and connection with his players, is undeniable


It was announced Wednesday that the 2021-22 season would be Mike Krzyzewski’s 42nd and last as Duke’s head men’s basketball coach. Those born after 1980 don’t know a world in which Coach K is not on the sidelines of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. After next season, they will know that world for the first time, and the news that Coach K will step down in a year leaves those of us that know him with an odd, bittersweet feeling. It is the end of the longest run of sustained excellence in college basketball history, maybe in the history of sports. It marks the end of an era, one in which the icon of icons in the game calls it a career. An utterly amazing career.

To put the Coach K era into perspective is a mammoth undertaking. Since 1986, Coach K has guided Duke to over 1,000 wins, 12 Final Fours, 5 national championships, 35 NCAA tournament berths and 15 ACC championships. He has had 67 players selected in the NBA draft, a number that will increase in July. And he has been a part of five Olympic gold medal-winning teams in 1984, 1992, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

No coach, whether Henry Iba or Chuck Daly, has been as impactful on the international stage as Coach K. John Wooden won 10 national championships in 12 seasons at UCLA, but Coach K has sustained his program on the top tier of the game for more than 35 years, a run of preeminence in the game that no coach has matched. Nobody has done it that well for that long.

Among the many things that have amazed me about Coach K: his unceasing enthusiasm and energy for each new season, even as he has reached an age where retirement would make sense, and when others might consider each year to be more of the same and meet it with a “been there, done that” attitude. Even though Coach K had been there countless times and done that at the highest level more than any other coach, he still approached every season with the energy of his first.

He is like the ultimate Sherpa, one who climbs Mount Everest routinely, yet brings the same effort, passion and zest as if it were his first climb. He takes each group up the mountain and is mindful that it is their first journey with him as their guide, but never tires of setting up base camp or the climb, because each expedition is different, with different people and conditions. He adapts to the changing conditions and works just as hard on each climb to get his group to the summit. The 2021-22 season will be his last climb.

I first met Coach K in 1981, when he started recruiting me as a 17-year old high school junior in Rolling Hills, California. I had a difficult relationship with my high school coach, and I knew that my college choice would be the only time in my basketball life that I could choose my college coach. I was choosing a coach, not a school. Of the coaches recruiting me, Coach K was the least known and the least accomplished. In fact, when he was recruiting me, Coach K had never been to the NCAA tournament. Yet, after a short period in the recruiting process, I knew that I liked him best and trusted him most. I wanted to play for him. I knew he was the best coach for me, but I didn’t know then that I had chosen to play for the best coach of all time. Yet, that is exactly what I got when I signed with Coach K.

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Seth Greenberg explains why he’s not surprised about Mike Krzyzewski’s plans to retire after this season.

Aside from my family, the decision to play for Coach K has been the most important and impactful decision of my life. I don’t know where I would be without Coach K in my life, but I know it wouldn’t have been the same ride with the same profound impact upon me. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of or use something he taught me or impressed upon me. Except for my family, he has been the most meaningful and critical relationship in my life.

As Coach K nears the end of his coaching career, the only thing I can think of is the gratitude I have for having him as my coach and mentor for so long, and to still have him. While I congratulate him on his amazing career, all I can think to say is thank you. Thank you for everything, because everything I have enjoyed in this game has been because of Coach K.

The game will never be the same without him, and nobody has had a bigger impact upon the game than Mike Krzyzewski. And we get him for one more year.



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