In front of the Duke bench, on one knee, fists clenched, Mike Krzyzewski radiated intensity. His team needed it, down 10 points to St. John’s late in the second half. And did the Blue Devils ever feed off it, mounting a comeback that was as unique as it was historic.
Krzyzewski said afterward he couldn’t recall coaching a game quite like that one. Technically, he was right: No one ever has. With Duke’s 77-68 win Sunday, Krzyzewski became the first Division I men’s basketball coach to win 1,000 games.
“I don’t think they fed off me,” Krzyzewski joked.
His players disagreed. After 40 years, after all the wins and Final Fours and national titles, there was still something that stirred them when they saw him go to such lengths to exhort his team to victory.
“Whenever a man of his stature is getting down on one knee, doing everything that he can, with 999 wins before this game, the passion and intensity to still win, it definitely motivates you and puts a fire in your heart to basically run through a wall for him,” Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon said.
Krzyzewski reached the milestone at Madison Square Garden, where he recorded his record 903rd win to surpass his mentor Bobby Knight and a short drive from West Point, where he played for Knight and began his head-coaching career at Army.
On such familiar ground, Krzyzewski conquered unfamiliar territory. None of the game’s greats – not John Wooden, not Dean Smith, not Adolph Rupp, not Knight – made it to 1,000.
“There will be others who will win more,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of neat to be the first one to 1,000.”