For Coach K, grass greenest at Duke

On college basketball

April 05, 2010|By Chris Dufresne

INDIANAPOLIS — There isn't one way to establish a legacy.

You have win-and-run nomads like Larry Brown, who can't sit still in a chair for 10 minutes. Yet, Brown has won titles in the NCAA and the NBA.

You have guys like Don Nelson, who have never won it all but have made enough horrible teams competitive to compile more coach-of-the-year trophies than Phil Jackson.

Or you can be Jackson, align yourself with four or five of the all-time greatest players and Zen your way to 10 championships.

There is an ideal way, though, to get a sculptor to chisel your bust: Plant roots.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski - like Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Dean Smith and John Wooden before him - is now a full-grown Sequoia.

You never have to wonder, with these guys, which hat they're wearing into the Hall of Fame.

They stayed in one place and outlasted everything - temptation, criticism, administrations, illness, envy, U.S. presidents, playing styles and rule changes.

Some coaches with this potential didn't see it through.

Krzyzewski, wrapping up his 30th season at Duke, has played it right. He has faced career crossroads but ultimately realized things never could be better than where he was at.

In the summer of 2004, the Lakers wanted to make him Coach K-ching, offering Krzyzewski a five-year, $40 million deal. Kobe Bryant, who would have attended Duke had he not skipped college, made a pitch on behalf of general manager Mitch Kupchak.

"I was more than tempted," Krzyzewski said Sunday. "I seriously considered it. One, because it was the Lakers. Mitch is great. It would have been an opportunity to work with Kobe. He and I are very close.

"I guess because I did not accept it, it really speaks to … how much I love Duke and college basketball, but especially Duke."

Krzyzewski might have won big with the Lakers, or failed, at a cost to his reputation.

By enduring at Duke, he was able to navigate through a college basketball sea change, the odorous era of one-and-done, and get to the precipice he has reached Monday.

If Duke beats Butler, Krzyzewski will have won his fourth title, surpassing the three won at Indiana by his mentor, Bob Knight.

Krzyzewski will have tied Kentucky's Adolph Rupp on the all-time list, surpassed in history only by Wooden's 10 titles at UCLA.

Krzyzewski will have done it with his least talented title team, with juniors and seniors not quite good enough to have left early to the NBA.

A win Monday sends his legacy straight to the time capsule.

The way to win big now is to rent one-year players (think Kentucky) or take slightly less talent and mold it into juniors and seniors.

Duke is in the title game with Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek. These are nice players, but maybe not future NBA all-stars.

In some ways, though, that makes Monday extra special. Krzyzewski has been prickly all season in defense of a team labeled by some as sub-standard - by Duke's standards.

Duke, though, has played marvelously in this tournament, and the Blue Devils' destruction of West Virginia on Saturday may have been the most close-to-perfect they have played in years.

This only has enhanced Krzyzewski's stature and advanced the mutual love-affair narrative.

"Duke has been committed to me when I wasn't with Knight and Rupp and those guys," Krzyzewski said. "They were committed to me when we were 38-47."

Hang around one place long enough and you become the face. Krzyzewski is the face of Duke.

cdufresne@tribune.com

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