As a North Carolina fan, liking Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is pretty foreign to me. And that’s putting it nicely.
But after witnessing history Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden, as “Coach K” notched victory No. 903 – surpassing Bob Knight, his former coach and current mentor – to become the winningest coach in men’s Division I basketball history, it’s impossible not to respect him.
Duke’s 74-69 win against Michigan State sets Krzyzewski atop college basketball’s Mount Rushmore, not that he needed the victory to validate his status.
And after hearing Krzyzewski’s own perspective on his standing, I may be coming around to that “L” word.
“I look in the mirror and I don’t see Brad Pitt,” he said following the game. “I’m more of a realist. I know that I’m a very good coach and I get really good guys.”
Many of those guys – Duke alumnus Grant Hill, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier and Team U.S.A.’s Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, to name a few – were in attendance.
Coach Knight was also there calling the game for ESPN. It was a gift, Krzyzewski said, from the “basketball gods.” The two shared a warm embrace after the final buzzer.
Krzyzewski thanked Knight for everything he’d learned from his Army coach and told Knight he loved him.
“Boy, you’ve done pretty good for a kid who couldn’t shoot,” Krzyzewski said Knight responded.
“So I think that meant he loves me, too,” a grinning Krzyzewski said. “I’m going to take it as that.”
If that doesn’t illustrate the significance of Krzyzewski’s achievement, another man making the trip to New York City surely did.
Krzyzewski’s older brother, a fireman for 37 years and a man the coach said he still looks up to, was in attendance despite battling chronic back problems and two artificial knees.
Krzyzewski understood the magnitude of the moment. But he didn’t prepare any differently for this game.
“I coach every game the same and they just start adding up,” he said. “I’m more into not losing than winning.”
He’s reached the Final Four 11 times. He’s a four-time national champion. He coached the Olympic gold-medal basketball team. They certainly do add up.
But he’s just happy win No. 903 is over.
Exiting the tunnel following a parade of accolades and hugs and emotions immediately after the game, Krzyzewski stopped by the Kentucky huddle preparing to enter the court and said, “sorry for holding you guys up.”
He’s a modest man from a humble background simply relieved the moment has come to pass.
“Maybe now they’ll take specials of me off of TV,” he said. “I’m getting tired of watching me on TV. There’s too much attention focused on me.”
The “Coach K” specials may fade. But they’ll never go away.
Mementos from Tuesday night will never replace the personalised Dean Smith-signed basketball on my mantle. But the events have forever changed my opinions of the winningest coach of all-time.
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