PITTSBURGH — Mike Krzyzewski walked briskly down a hallway inside PPG Paints Arena on Thursday evening, keeping up a surprisingly fast pace for a 71-year-old man with two surgically replaced hips and two surgically replaced knees.
He had just finished his postgame meeting with media members after Duke had beaten Iona, 89-67, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was the 92nd victory in this event for Krzyzewski and, even though the Blue Devils had taken control of the game late in the first half, he didn’t relax even a little until the very end.
“Lehigh and Mercer,” he said, ticking off teams that have beaten his in the first round in the recent past. “Just because I’ve done this before and had some success doesn’t mean I’m going to prepare any differently or any less.”
He already had a good idea of what he and his team would face in the second round: A Rhode Island team with veteran guards that could make life difficult for his very talented but very inexperienced team. Which is why he was in a hurry. He wanted to get back to the hotel and begin meeting with his assistant coaches and looking at tape.
That’s been his ritual for 43 years as a coach, and he isn’t about to change now.
“I’m glad I have work to do tonight,” he said Thursday with a smile. “Because it means we won today and have another game to play.”
Duke will play another game next Friday in Omaha in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State or Syracuse because it completely demoralized Rhode Island on Saturday, going on a 23-6 run midway through the half and never looking back in a dominating 87-62 victory.
The win added to all the extraordinary numbers Krzyzewski has produced in his remarkable career. He has won 1,099 games, surpassing Pat Summitt as the all-time leader among NCAA coaches, male or female. The only college coach he now trails is Harry Statham, who recently retired from McKendree of the NAIA level with 1,122 wins in 52 seasons.
The win was also the 93rd in the NCAA tournament for Krzyzewski — 17 more than Roy Williams, his counterpart at archrival North Carolina, and 28 more than Dean Smith, who tortured him during his early years at Duke. This will also be the 23rd time he’s coached the second weekend of the tournament. Twelve of those previous 22 trips resulted in Final Four appearances, five of them in national championships.
In short, he has nothing left to prove. And yet, he still coaches as if he was at Army, where he spent five years with players who were too small and too slow to compete and yet went 73-59. He doesn’t just remember the losses to Lehigh and Mercer, but his first three years at Duke, when he was 38-47 and many alumni wanted him run out of town.
“There’s no question you can embarrass me with,” he once told a questioner in a news conference who said he didn’t want to embarrass him with a personal question. “I lost a game by 43 my third year at Duke. That was embarrassing.”
Several years ago, Geoff Petrie, then the general manager of the Sacramento Kings, went to see a Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium with Keith Drum, a Kings scout who has known Krzyzewski since he first arrived at Duke in the spring of 1980. As the two men walked out after the game, Drum asked Petrie what he thought about the game, the players he was there to see and the atmosphere.
“I think it’s amazing,” Petrie answered, “that the most intense person in that building was the 65-year-old coach who’s won four national championships.”
The number’s five now, and Krzyzewski would love a sixth because, well, it’s the next thing out there.
This Duke team is built around four freshmen — none of whom is likely to be around next season — and one senior, Grayson Allen. It has two remarkably talented big men in Marvin Bagley III, likely to be the first player taken in June’s NBA draft, and Wendell Carter Jr., also a likely lottery pick.
But with youth, especially youth that has one eye on the door, comes inexperience, especially on defense. That’s why Krzyzewski has been forced to play exclusively zone defense for almost the entire season. Watching Duke play zone is a little bit like watching Tom Brady play quarterback left-handed or Phil Mickelson play golf right-handed. It just doesn’t look right.
Krzyzewski talks up the zone every chance he gets because he wants his players to believe in it. “We foul less in the zone,” he said Saturday. “Today, we did a good job most of the game getting to their shooters. This was one of our best games of the season. We played an outstanding team and we were an outstanding team today.”
He isn’t ready to call this season outstanding, even with a 28-7 record and the trip coming up to Omaha. No one knows about dealing with a high bar more than Krzyzewski.
The larger question is how much longer Krzyzewski will continue to add to his list of amazing numbers.
When someone asked him about passing Summitt in wins he said all the right things. “Pat would have had hundreds more wins if she’d stayed healthy,” he said. “It’s an honor because she was a pioneer. She built an entire sport.
“I’ve won a lot of games, and that’s great. But I’ve had a lot of great players and good health.”
He paused, smiled at the good health line and added: “I’ve got two new knees and two new hips, so basically I have a new body.”
What isn’t new and hasn’t gotten old is the drive Petrie was awed by. Krzyzewski has mastered the one-and-done, recruiting a retinue of new players each year, much as John Calipari does at Kentucky. But he doesn’t like the one-and-done because what he loved most about coaching was watching young men mature as people and players. He rarely gets to do that anymore.
“If you don’t adapt in coaching, you don’t survive,” he said a few years back. “If I don’t change with the times, I won’t be coaching.”
He’s still coaching because he still loves it. He loves the competition, loves the winning and loves preparing. He understood how Virginia Coach Tony Bennett felt Friday night after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed because he’s suffered those first-round losses he still remembers so vividly.
“When we lost to Lehigh and Mercer, they were deserving winners,” he said. “UMBC was a deserving winner last night. Tony understood that. Any time you walk into the arena, something great can happen, but some nights the great things happen to the other team.
“That’s what makes all of this so much fun. When the work pays off for you and your players, you really appreciate it. I never take winning for granted.”
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.
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