While the Blue Devils were in Atlanta playing Georgia Tech, Mike Krzyzewski was on the seventh floor of Duke hospital in the heart wing. It was a 9 p.m. start, but Krzyzewski, who will turn 69 on Feb. 13, was fiery as usual.
“So I’m yelling, and the nurses are coming in,” Krzyzewski said. “And probably they learned a few new words up there, too.”
Everything was back to normal by Wednesday afternoon, and Krzyzewski assumed his usual place on the sideline for the 88-80 win over N.C. State on Saturday (some things never change: the Wolfpack haven’t beaten a Krzyzewski-coached Duke team at Cameron since 1988).
Duke had a scheduled off day from practice Wednesday, so Krzyzewski didn’t have to rush back to on-court work. He did give the Blue Devils their normal day-after-game feedback after he was released from the hospital earlier in the day.
And before Thursday’s practice, he addressed the team.
“And I explained to them everything that happened. Full disclosure, all the stuff,” Krzyzewski said. “I asked them, ‘Is it alright to be here? And they said yeah. I said, well, that’s smart of you, because I still control playing time.
“I guess it’s like a parent – even if your kids don’t want you there, we provide the food.”
“We talked about it, but at the same time, we knew we had to move forward,” Matt Jones said. “He was ready to move forward, and as a team, we had to follow his lead. It’s as simple as that.”
Krzyzewski did give a few health-related details in his postgame press conference, like the fact that he was in the heart wing of the hospital Monday and Tuesday night. He also has an injured left knee, and that will require a procedure, presumably after the season. The bad knee prevented him from doing a stress test the preferred way, which involves either walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. Instead, he was injected with medicine to test his heart.
“They inject you with this stuff that makes your heart pump,” Krzyzewski said, as he mimicked his heart pumping out of his chest with his hand. “Damn heart is like what the hell is going on here?”
Krzyzewski said he was okay now, and undoubtedly the doctors would have not released him from the hospital if there was an urgent problem demanding immediate attention. Still, Krzyzewski isn’t getting any younger. Assistant coach Jeff Capel, 40, filled in admirably for Krzyzewski in Tuesday’s 80-71 win against the Yellow Jackets. If that’s viewed as a potential look into the future, Krzyzewski is certainly pleased.
“I told my team that watching them play and win, I don’t need that medication (for my heart) next time,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ll just watch the Georgia Tech game. That’s how damn proud I was of them and Jeff and Jon (Scheyer) and Nate (James) for stepping in there.
The older Krzyzewski has gotten, the more he has delegated to his assistant coaches, so the Blue Devils are plenty familiar with Capel’s style. And there is a natural bond they share with all the assistants, too.
“All of them have been in our shoes before,” Grayson Allen said. “They know what it’s like to be a Duke basketball player and play for Coach K. It was kind of like the perfect transition for us for them to lead us.”
Krzyzewski is back now trying to coax the most he can out of this year’s Duke team, which ideally would have more than a six-man rotation (injured forward Amile Jefferson again had a walking boot on for the second straight game). Wins over Georgia Tech and the Wolfpack this week were huge, as the Blue Devils (17-6, 6-4 ACC) are about to embark on the toughest two-week stretch of the season (Louisville, Virginia, at North Carolina and at Louisville).
“We’re not this powerhouse, but our guys are doing a good job,” Krzyzewski said. “They are doing a really good job. We just have to keep fighting every game and just try to keep getting better. And hopefully stay healthy.”
That includes coaches, too.