Duke, once more, is college basketball’s king, and the news brings shouts of joy and groans of envy. That is the reward and price of achievement, to be celebrated in some quarters, resented in others.
If Duke divides basketball fans by sentiment, it also unites them in agreement – Duke is good. And this year, for the fifth time under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the private school in Durham has the nation’s best men’s college basketball team.
Krzyzewski took a team dominated by freshmen to the title Monday night by treating them not as freshmen but as potential champions. They met his expectations and affirmed once more his genius for not only directing but also reading and motivating his players. This was a title that rightfully puts Coach K alone behind only UCLA’s John Wooden as the winner of the most NCAA men’s basketball titles.
The win came against a worthy opponent in Wisconsin, a team as seasoned as Duke is young. The Badgers beat a powerful group on their way to the title game, knocking off the University of North Carolina, Arizona and seemingly unbeatable Kentucky. Wisconsin led by 9 in the second half before Duke willed its way into the lead and held on for a 68-63 victory.
“It’s as good a feeling as I’ve had in sports to win it with this group,” Krzyzewski said amid the mayhem of the celebration. “They’re so young and so together and so gritty and just a joy to coach.”
Duke was led by four freshmen: guards Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones and forwards Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. The last three are expected to leave Duke after this semester to enter the NBA draft.
That likely exodus put Duke, like Kentucky, at the center of the discussion about the NBA’s 19-year-old age requirement and what it’s doing to create super teams of one-and-done college players. Krzyzewski doesn’t necessarily like that trend, but he’s adjusted to it, and now he has won with it.
Duke’s winning ways have created fans across the nation and rivals here at home. Yet all who love basketball celebrate a team, a coach and a system that win it all with a combination of talent and faith in each other.