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Mike Wise

Coach K Stayed in College, But He's Still a Pro

By Mike Wise
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page G05

If odds were posted, Mike Krzyzewski had a better chance of being in Washington yesterday afternoon had he taken an NBA job rather than remaining at Duke last summer. He would have been arriving at the Four Seasons for a game tonight against the Wizards. Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom could have been pupils, the Lakers his team.

Five-star hotels. Egocentricity. Professional dysfunction. For at least $40 million over five years, the Great Coach K could have been Miserable Mike Krzyzewski.

"Oh yeah," Krzyzewski said when asked if he was glad he remained in Durham, N.C., for millions less. He quipped that he thought twice about the Lakers job when his center, Shelden Williams, began dangerously dribbling the ball upcourt in the final minutes against Georgia Tech. But mostly, Coach K smiled. He was happy he stayed in school.

Crazy how life works when you take the fork in the road your heart tells you to take, no?

Krzyzewski had climbed atop another ladder about 30 minutes earlier, snipped three times and descended with the nylon from another ACC tournament championship. He waved to the crowd, blew a kiss toward his family and walked back to the bench a gratified man. The Blue Devils weathered their own late-game demons and survived more than beat the Yellow Jackets, 69-64.

If this Duke team was not chopped liver, it certainly was not among Krzyzewski's most talented. Picked to finish fourth in the ACC, Duke and its coach were supposed to be home already, preparing as a No. 5 seed for the NCAA tournament. But they are astonishingly a No. 1 seed today, mostly because Krzyzewski waved his wand. He turned a good team into one of the most cohesive units in the nation. He worked with what he had during what, by Duke standards, was supposed to be a trying season.

Krzyzewski has won nine ACC tournament titles and three national championships, every accolade imaginable. And yet this may be his best coaching job.

"It's not like he's playing with a bunch of scrubs, but Mike has invested a lot of energy in this team," said Jay Bilas, the ESPN analyst. "There aren't a lot of natural leaders. He's done a great job of injecting his personality in this team."

Indeed, for all the talent Duke is not supposed to have, there were five McDonald's High School All-Americans on the floor at the same time. An argument could be made that Williams, shooting guard J.J. Redick and point guard Daniel Ewing make up a better trio than Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder and Luke Schenscher. But Duke has no bench, save two freshmen and a football player.

Williams is a monster on defense. He completely outplayed Tech's front line yesterday, blocking six shots to go with 16 points and 13 rebounds. But he is limited offensively, with not much in the way of back-to-the-basket moves. Ewing has problems passing out of the double-team. Sometimes he doesn't know whether to pass or shoot. His fundamental decision-making as a floor leader is severely lacking. Lee Melchionni, a gun of some renown, could not create his own shot against the Yellow Jackets.

Redick, the tournament MVP, was a lottery pick the past two days. Against North Carolina State on Saturday and Georgia Tech yesterday, he scored 61 points while playing all 80 minutes. His 26 in the championship game were economical. He scored when needed. But even Redick was ineffective late in the game, as the Yellow Jackets furiously rallied from 13 points down in the final seven minutes.

Duke could not buy a field goal for more than 11 minutes. The title was slipping away, just as the game slipped away last Sunday at North Carolina. Will Bynum converted two free throws with 1 minute 27 seconds left to cut the margin to two points. MCI Center was howling, waiting for the Blue Devils to collapse under their own weight.

The ball was inbounded to Williams, a notorious foul shooter. He began dribbling and was suddenly double-teamed, a swipe away from giving up a possession that could lose the game.

Someone had to bail him out, come to the ball, give him help. That person was Coach K. Williams had nowhere to go and had already spent four of the 10 seconds allotted for getting the ball across half court. He was Chris Webber, trapped in a corner, when Krzyzewski began screaming, waving his arms for a timeout.

He not only gave his team an extra four seconds to advance the ball to the front court if needed, Krzyzewski gave the late-game instruction needed so that the Blue Devils did not have a complete meltdown. It was one of his finest moments in a fine season.

"I'm speechless," he said afterward. "It was survival. This is what this team has done the whole year. I don't know what to say. I'm astounded we are the ACC champions. . . . I'm so proud of my team."

Against the rest of the ACC field headed to the tournament, Duke somehow went 7-2. Sure, Krzyzewski slows the game down too soon when Duke is leading. There are times when his teams forget to attack and rests on their laurels. But the Blue Devils won another scrum yesterday, another physically and emotionally exhausting game that their coach told them they needed to win.

The Great Coach K went back to Durham a champion instead of dealing with Bryant and preparing for the Wizards tonight. He knows $40 million would have been nice, but he would have been Miserable Mike. Money simply cannot buy Sunday afternoon atop a ladder, snipping the nylon.

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