Despite the fact that most of Mike Krzyzewski’s players cannot spell his name, he is a legendary coach, and he has not won this reputation in a nasty, no-holds-barred slug-fest to the top. He is a true gentleman and genuinely cares about family and friends, his fans, his players—past as well as present. It’s actually very difficult to comprehend how he keeps up with obligations to family and friends, charities, Duke University, other coaches, speaking engagements/special events, his team, and the thousands of details that encompass the basketball season itself.
What Draws Players to Coach K?
- Genuine warmth
I believe the number one attribute that is immediately obvious to players and potential players is Coach K’s genuine interest in them, not just their talent. He isn’t simply about spouting a memorized sales pitch to each player, he isn’t into empty flattery, he rarely talks about himself. He cares about players’ families as well as the player. One example I’ve noted of his protectiveness is a refusal to play a player who is injured. To some coaches it is all about winning, and if he has to risk a player’s future in sport, so be it. But two obvious recent examples of Coach’s determination not to risk players’ future can be seen in his treatment of Kyrie Irving and Marvin Bagley. It is possible that they could have returned to play a bit earlier, but Coach knew that playing without getting back into top level conditioning may well have made them vulnerable to another injury.
- Top Level Reputation
Coach K is famous and he is arguably the best at what he does. On March 17, 2018, Mike Krzyzewski won the 1,099th game in his career, passing Pat Summitt for most wins by a Division I coach, male or female. His Duke teams have won 13 ACC Championships, been to 12 Final Fours, and won National Championships.
On April 6, 2015, Krzyzewski won his 5th NCAA championship, when Duke defeated Wisconsin in the title game. Only Coach Wooden of UCLA has won more national championships (10).
In addition, he’s led the USA Olympic teams to three gold medals—featuring teams full of players with names like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green and hosts of others. Who would not want to be associated with an individual who has coached such a list?
- Excellent Teaching Ability
Of course, Coach is a great teacher and many players claim to select Duke because they want to learn from him. With almost perpetual top ten ranked teams, national championship teams, national players of the year, All American players, and national defensive players of the year, it is clear that Coach is very good at nurturing his players to their strengths as well as to peak performance in every area.
- Hand-picked Coaching Staff
Almost invariably, Coach hires former players to his coaching staff. This testifies to the family atmosphere that is fostered at Duke. Coach K keeps friendships going with former players through the years and is never inaccessible. A number of former Duke assistants have become NCAA coaches; they are highly respected and some have excelled. A few still need more time to prove that they can build a consistently superior program.
Can Coach K Take His Pick?
For the 2018-2019 season, Coach has recruited the first, second, third, seventh and thirty-first ranked recruits in the nation. This might make it appear that anyone he approaches will select Duke. Of course, this isn’t true. But it is true that some players come to Duke based partly on the recruiting efforts of his coaching staff. The latest coach on his staff who seemed to have an innate ability to draw top recruits to Duke was Jeff Capel. He accepted a coaching job next year with University of Pittsburgh, but other coaches also assist with recruiting.
Several great 2017 players Duke targeted in vain were Kevin Knox, Trae Young, D.J. Harvey, and Mohamed Bamba. For this coming season, players who selected other schools include grad transfer, Joe Cremo, from Albany, 12th ranked E.J. Montgomery, Emmitt Williams, Moses Brown, and Jairus Hamilton. So while Coach K attracts some of the finest players in the nation, of course a number of those to whom Duke makes an offer choose to attend elsewhere.
Krzyzewski is not a magical mantra, but the coach and his accomplishments in college basketball may come closer than just about any other coach to take on a magical aura when one considers the sheer volume of his achievements.