Duke

Duke Now: Trust in Krzyzewski pays off for Blue Devils

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski yells for his team to play defense late in the second half of play. Duke upset Louisville 63-52 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. Saturday, January 17, 2015.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski yells for his team to play defense late in the second half of play. Duke upset Louisville 63-52 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. Saturday, January 17, 2015. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Despite never playing zone extensively in his career, Quinn Cook wasn't surprised when coach Mike Krzyzewski announced the tweak in defensive strategy in practice this week.

"Just ready to go out there and execute it, honestly. That's basically it," Cook said about his reaction.

He revealed his reasoning a few minutes later.

"Coach is a genius," he said. "He is the best ever. Whatever he wants, that's what we do. And we executed."

Cook and the rest of the Blue Devils trust Krzyzewski completely - after Saturday's 63-52 win at Louisville, they have 998 reasons for doing so. As Krzyzewski predicted, two straight losses had them ready and eager to embrace whatever the coaches said.

"No matter what you say, kids learn through experience," Krzyzewski said. "Hopefully we don't have to go through losing as much to learn these lessons, but we might. We have a long road ahead of us. It's a long journey. This was a nice stop for us. But it's still going to be a journey. I know it. Hopefully my team knows it."

Cook said Krzyzewski was as intense as he has ever seen him this week - and intense is his default state under normal circumstances. Cook laughed when asked to get more specific, saying, "Y'all see him on the sidelines when he gets after us, when guys make turnovers or are not playing well, y'all see it."

"Even before we lost against N.C. State, after Wake Forest, the next practice was rough," Cook said. "He's just really intense, and he felt like we weren't playing our best basketball. He warned us, and we didn't want to lose to learn about things, and we lost two games. He was still intense. Not reminding us about the losses, but we have a tough game on Saturday."

While Krzyzewski is undoubtedly tough on his players, he also was trying to repair their confidence. His ability to balance that dichotomy is one reason he's one of the game's elite coaches. He has been particularly hard, of late, on Amile Jefferson, and the junior captain responded with a career-high 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

"I've been trying to figure out how to lead," Jefferson said. "Those last two games, I didn't feel like I did a good job. I was talking to guys after games and stuff, but I thought we needed something different on the court. Just trying to bring emotion and energy. That's what the coaches wanted. They wanted us to be lively. That was the word they used."

With Duke leading by 15 early in the second half, Jefferson saw an open lane and drove hard. He elevated - "probably the highest I have jumped in a long time," he said - and met a not-set Mangok Mathiang as he went for the dunk. The finish, had it gone, would have been easily his best highlight-reel play at Duke, but the foul at least sent him to the free throw line. Jefferson popped up yelling, his emotion palpable to his teammates.

"Guys followed his lead today," Cook said. "Coach really got on him the past couple of games. He didn't start against N.C. State. Coach has been on him, and he responded today."

All of the Blue Devils responded to Krzyzewski's urgings in practice this week. Even though those outside shots still aren't falling - Duke shot 4-of-15 from deep (26.7 percent), the third straight game under 27 percent - the defense was where it needed to be.

Krzyzewski said the zone isn't necessarily here to stay. It will depend on what the team needs as it moves forward.

"With a young team, because their experiences change them week to week, sometimes game to game," he said, "I have to react to that."

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