Tudor

Winning still fuels Coach K

Staff WriterMarch 30, 2010 

Now that Duke has worked its way back to a Final Four for the first time since 2004, don't be surprised to see the Blue Devils make a habit of it again.

Going back to 1986, Mike Krzyzewski's pattern has been one of repetition. His teams got to five straight Final Fours starting in 1988 and then again in 1994, 1999 and 2001.

At 63, Krzyzewski is still relatively young as college coaching careers go these days, and there's no doubt he's still as committed to winning as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kryzyzewski addressed that topic at length during last weekend's South Regional games in Houston.

"I am every bit as passionate about my team today as I was in '86," he said. "There is no question. You can ask anybody. There is no question about it. I love what I do. I love my guys and they deserve that, just like my '86 team did.

"Whenever it is that I stop coaching, it will be because I can't go at that level. It won't be because I can't coach. It will be because I couldn't give my team that. But right now, I can do that and willingly do that. I guess there will be some time where you won't have that, which will be sad. But I'm going to go for it as long as I have it."

The key is getting the right personnel. In Krzyzewski's case, the correct personnel blend doesn't necessarily mean signing the most talented recruits each season. The talent level has to be high, of course. But it's more about work ethic, chemistry and leadership, which the current team has in excess.

Next season, the Devils will be without Lance Thomas, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek for sure, and there's a chance junior Kyle Singler will leave for the NBA.

The remaining primary parts - Nolan Smith, Andre Dawkins, Miles and Mason Plumlee - may not add up to an intimidating lineup, but help is on the way.

Transfer Seth Curry, although lean at 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, almost certainly will absorb some of the 3-point shooting drain. Incoming recruit Kyrie Irving is rated one of the fastest guards in the country and a reliable shooter.

With or without Singler, the Blue Devils are going to be a lot quicker team and one with many interchangeable parts. The obvious question mark will be frontcourt depth, but some improvement by 6-10 Ryan Kelly could go far in solving that problem.

A trademark of Krzyzewski's career always has been breakthrough events. The first big one came in 1984, when he beat North Carolina with Michael Jordan in the ACC tournament.

Next came the '86 East Regional and the wins over DePaul and Navy to qualify for his first Final Four.

The biggest hurdle was cleared in '99, four seasons after Krzyzewski's health problems so sidetracked the momentum that the dynasty was in trouble. Two seasons later, he had his third national title.

What happened in Houston had the feel and look of another turning point. On paper, Baylor probably had more basketball talent, meaning Duke had to get to a Final Four largely on intensity, intangibles and coaching.

It's precisely the sort of accomplishment that has reinvigorated the program for 30 years. Duke's back, and Krzyzewski's teams rarely retreat. In short, there's no reason at all to believe this will be his final Final Four.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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