Chris Carrawell talks Coach K and the 'old-school' ACC in a one-on-one interview

In March, Chris Carrawell, left, returned to Duke as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, right.
In March, Chris Carrawell, left, returned to Duke as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, right. Staff photographer

Chris Carrawell calls himself an "old-school guy" who loves the "old-school way" of the ACC.

In March, the former Duke basketball star returned to the Blue Devils — and a very different conference than it once was — when coach Mike Krzyzewski hired him as an assistant coach.

In a one-on-one interview with The News & Observer, Carrawell talks about how the ACC has changed, what it's like to coach in the one-and-done era and his impression of Coach K, his former coach and now boss.

Carrawell, 40, was a small forward under Krzyzewski from 1996-2000. He was twice named an All-ACC player and was 2000 ACC player of the year. Carrawell returned to Duke in 2007 as the athletic department outreach coordinator, then graduate assistant and head team manager from 2008-2010 under Krzyzewski.

He was the team’s assistant strength coach and assistant video coordinator from 2010-11 before briefly working for Duke’s women’s basketball program as a graduate assistant.

Carrawell left Duke in 2011 and spent three years as an assistant coach the NBA Developmental League with the Springfield (Mass.) Armor.

In 2014, when Steve Wojciechowski left his assistant coaching job at Duke to become Marquette’s head coach, he hired Carrawell as an assistant coach.

In his conversation with The N&O, Carrawell credits Wojciechowski for his return to Duke. Here's the interview.

Wiseman: What does it mean to be back at Duke?

Carrawell: It’s just different, man. It’s just different. You are always part of the program. The brotherhood is real. But when you have the opportunity to come back and have an impact and actually help in a different capacity, working under Coach K, working for the program every day, it’s special. It’s just a special feeling. It means so much to you because you care so much about the program. To have the opportunity to come back and help our student-athletes is incredible.

Wiseman: How difficult of a decision was it to leave Steve Wojciechowskis' staff at Marquette when Coach K offered you the job at Duke?

Carrawell: If I wasn’t at Marquette with Wojo, I wouldn’t be back at Duke working for Coach. The opportunity that Wojo afforded me four years ago kind of prepared me for an opportunity to come back. Wojo is a part of the brotherhood. He was like, basically, if Coach wants you, you’ve got to go back. He really made it easy for me, because he understood. It was really a smooth transition. As far as transitions go, that was a smooth one.

Wiseman: What did you learn during your coaching stops away from Duke over the last seven years that make you different now?

Carrawell: You just learn how different programs do it. You recruit different kids. You are in different parts of the country. You learn from different assistant coaches that we had at Marquette that were really good. You just learn differently. At Duke, we play for the greatest coach and we work under the greatest coach of all time. But there are other successful programs out there as well. So you try to learn a little bit and see how they can help a program that’s done it so well for so long to see if you can bring just a percent of what you learn and the knowledge that you’ve gained to try to help our guys and help coach.

Duke's Chris Carrawell shows the media who's the best in the ACC with teammate Shane Battier in the background in 2000. Duke defeated Wake Forest 96-78, clinching the ACC regular-season title for the fourth consecutive year.

Wiseman: College basketball has changed since your playing days with so many one-and-done players. Coach K even had Duke playing zone last year. What’s your assessment of the way the job is done now in this environment compared to when you played?

Carrawell: You’ve got to be able to adjust. I think that is what Coach has been great at. He’s been able to adjust to the kids, to the styles. I never thought I would see the day when Coach K played zone for an entire game. But that’s what Coach had to do with the team last year to win games. It was odd on the outside looking in. But you have to do because you deal with these one-and-done kids.

When you are teaching man-to-man principles, it really takes a while to learn to be a great man-to-man defensive team. You have to have players who stay in a program two, three, four years. At Duke, that’s not happening now. So Coach K and our staff have done a great job adjusting to that.

Wiseman: The incoming freshmen aren’t on campus yet, but how much do you know about them? Have you seen them play much?

Carrawell: I know they are freakin’ good. I actually had a chance to sit down with Tre Jones. He’s an amazing kid. Just really, really smart. Knows the game. Loves the game. He’s going to be a good player for us.

Wiseman: What are your thoughts on the ACC, which is much different now than it was when you played at Duke?

Carrawell: I’m an old-school guy. I love the old-school way. But the conference has evolved. We have to adjust. But I’m not going to lie; I just liked that old-school, duke it out twice. Go against Georgia Tech twice, Wake Forest twice, Carolina twice, Maryland. Now Maryland is not even in the ACC. It’s just different. But we still have the best conference in basketball. The best players. The best coaches top to bottom. So I’m looking forward to being back in the ACC.

Wiseman: Coach K is 71 and has always said he’ll keep coaching as long as he feels healthy and remains engaged in the job. Knowing him as you do, what are your impressions of him now as opposed to past years?

Carrawell: Coach K had a string from 2006-16 when he was coaching the Olympic team. He had a stretch where I don’t know if any coach or player who went through a stretch as much as him. In terms of coaching world championship teams, Olympic teams, the travel and then coaching your Duke team and recruiting. Nobody has ever gone through a stretch like that.

So for him, that’s a lot of wear and tear on you. I think he is finally recovering, if that makes sense. He’s had a chance to sit down and step back and not coach 120-some games a year. I might be exaggerating, but you know what I mean. Practices with that team. Prepare that team. Then prepare the Duke team and recruit. Dealing with all these NBA egos. You know how much pressure it is to win an Olympic gold medal? Are you kidding me? I know how he prepares. So he’s had a chance to breathe.

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