It was more than a year ago, in November 2013, when Jahlil Okafor became one of the first people to publicly mention Mike Krzyzewski’s impending milestone. Okafor was still a senior at Chicago’s Whitney Young High, and he was explaining his reasoning for committing to Duke.
“With Duke I felt more comfortable going to play with the winningest coach in college basketball,” Okafor said during his televised college decision announcement. “And me personally getting a chance to help Coach K with his 1,000th game that was the tipping point for me.”
Krzyzewski’s first try for win No. 1,000 comes Sunday, with No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2 ACC) playing St. John’s in Madison Square Garden, the same site as his most recent wins-related milestone. It was about three years ago, in November 2011, when the Blue Devils beat Michigan State to give Krzyzewski win No. 903, passing Bob Knight for the most wins in men’s Division I history.
Quinn Cook, then a freshman, played two minutes in the 74-69 victory.
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“I can remember Coach not talking about it at all,” Cook said. “Obviously we knew what’s going on. Like on TV, there is always something being shown about it on ‘SportsCenter,’ things like that. We all knew, but Coach didn’t mention anything about it.”
Krzyzewski is similarly trying to take the focus off this milestone, telling his team to focus on getting win No. 17 of this season. His goal is to take as much pressure off the Blue Devils as he can, something he spoke about after the win at Louisville a week ago Saturday. There is an inherent pressure in putting on the Duke uniform and playing for the coach who is recognizable by one letter. But Krzyzewski is doing his best to combat that.
“Coach knows that, at some point, he is going to get his 1,000th win,” Amile Jefferson said. “It should happen this game because it’s our next game, and we need to win it. His message was not to fall into everything else that is going on around the win but to get this win because it will be win No. 17 for our group.”
Still, Cook and Jefferson, the captains on this year’s team, understand the historical significance of the moment and grasp the magnitude of contributing to a legacy that extends much further back than their own careers.
“It’s more than just our team,” Jefferson said. “It’s every player he has ever coached. All the ups, all the downs, everything that Coach K has accomplished throughout his career, it all comes together once he gets his 1,000th win. It’s a milestone. It’s a landmark. It’s something no coach has ever done.”
Okafor, too, grasped all that back when he decided to come to Duke and to publicly mention the 1,000th win. It wasn’t just about the big, round number, Okafor said, but more about the legacy it represents.
“I wanted to go to a college program to win,” he said, “and it doesn’t get any better than playing for the winningest coach of all time.”
Plumlee joining Army: Before Friday’s practice, junior center Marshall Plumlee signed his Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) contract, which allows him to work toward becoming an officer in the Army. The signing took place during a ceremony with his teammates and coaches present.
“I’m extremely proud to be joining the United States Army,” Plumlee said in a statement. “I’m already blessed to be a part of Duke basketball, a great team, and now I’m excited to be joining another great team.”