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Road to No. 880 lined with gold

GREENSBORO -- Sometimes history sneaks up on you.

And sometimes, like Wednesday night in the Greensboro Coliseum, it unfolds like another sunrise, sure and certain but somehow still special.

There was no real drama to Duke's 108-62 victory over UNC Greensboro – it had a sense of inevitability about it even before tipoff – but it still seemed touched with gold.

That's because it was Mike Krzyzewski's night.

It's why more than 22,000 people came to share in the moment at the basketball-blessed arena, to say they were there the night Krzyzewski passed former North Carolina coach Dean Smith on the all-time college basketball victory list.

It was the 880th victory in Krzyzewski's college career, one more than Smith had, and another brick in Krzyzewski's yellow brick road.

When it was over, Krzyzewski accepted a line of congratulatory handshakes, waved to the crowd that stood and cheered and he allowed the glow to linger.

It was a moment to enjoy, 36 seasons in the making.

"I'm glad that's done," Krzyzewski said.

The game was about what you'd expect. Duke was too big, too fast and too good for the Spartans, who are better than their winless record suggests. But the moment was too big to ignore. Greensboro coach Mike Dement, a Krzyzewski assistant 27 years ago, said he could see it in how the Blue Devils played.

Krzyzewski was surprised when he walked into the arena three minutes before tipoff and saw it full. He thought back to his early days when Duke fans were hard to find and there he was, a man in a black pinstripe suit, standing in front of thousands wearing Duke colors.

Three decades ago when he first coached against Smith, someone asked Krzyzewski how it felt to coach against the North Carolina master.

"I can coach, too," Krzyzewski said.

He's spent the past three decades proving it. The numbers now look like snow drifts. Beyond the 880 victories, there are four national championships, 12 ACC tournament titles, 11 Final Fours, an Olympic gold medal, a floor named in his honor and a shot at running his victory total to the outer edge of basketball imaginations.

Krzyzewski's coaching legacy is measured in many ways but particularly against those of Smith and Knight, the first his nearby rival, the latter his mentor. Smith sent a message of congratulations to Krzyzewski Wednesday night, touching on their shared values – team and family.

"I thought he (Smith) did it in a way that served as an example for everyone else and we've tried to do it in a similar way but be our own people," Krzyzewski said.

"For our conference to have both has been great. To be eight miles apart and share that level of excellence is great."

Krzyzewski needs 23 victories to pass Knight as the game's all-time winner, an achievement he's likely to accomplish this season. Once estranged, Krzyzewski and Knight talk weekly now. Krzyzewski asks Knight "what he's shooting" and then they go on to other things.

But not the record.

Krzyzewski said Knight could have 1,100 wins if he were still at Indiana and Smith could have had more had he kept coaching. Some of it is circumstance, he suggested. True, but that's avoiding the obvious. There's genius at work.

That's why virtually everyone in the Greensboro Coliseum stayed until the end of a blowout on this late December night. So they could stand and cheer the man whose night it was – and all the other nights like this one.