Duke Now: Coach K reflects after milestone 1000th win

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski watches in the closing seconds with assistant Jeff Capel and Nate James as the Blue Devils beat St. John's 77-68 for Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski watches in the closing seconds with assistant Jeff Capel and Nate James as the Blue Devils beat St. John's 77-68 for Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win. cliddy@newsobserver.com

With Duke’s first-half struggles a moot point in the 77-68 win over St. John’s, Mike Krzyzewski could make a few jokes.

“At halftime, I sent a text out to destroy all of the books I’ve written on leadership,” he said, clearly kidding. “Because they weren’t working.”

It did look unlikely at times that Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win was going to come Sunday in Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm shot 54.8 percent in the first half and dribble-drove to a 10-point lead halfway through the second. But the Blue Devils rose to the occasion, just as they did in the year’s other big games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Louisville.

Don’t burn those books just yet.

“I went to the best leadership school in the world, the United States Military Academy, and I played for one of the great coaches of any sport, ever,” Krzyzewski said of his Army coach, Bob Knight. “That coach gave me a foundation. That school gave me a foundation.”

In the 46 years since Krzyzewski graduated from West Point, he has added onto that foundation: His wife, Mickie and his three daughters and nine grandchildren have been with him throughout his journey that had taken Duke from a regional school to a national powerhouse. Krzyzewski ended his press conference by telling a story from 2005 – it was July, and all ESPN’s SportsCenter had to focus on was whether he was going to become the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He had his oldest daughter, Debbie Savarino, raise her hand.

“We had the mattress out in our house, just bunkered in trying to make decisions, and we’re getting some food, and the TV comes on, and I’m on,” Krzyzewski said. “And Debbie said, ‘Dad, you’re on again!’ ” clearly stressing the annoyance in her voice.

Krzyzewski shared that story to compare that time to this time, this week-long lead-up to his first crack at 1,000 wins. Krzyzewski joked that so many stories had been written about him that even he had learned new things about himself – things he had forgotten over the years.

Back in the present moment – where Krzyzewski prefers to spend his time, not stuck reminiscing about the past – he was still trying to process his current team’s remarkable comeback.

Throughout those 20 tough minutes for Duke, from the middle of the first half to the middle of the second, Krzyzewski’s wife and daughters were either on the edge of their seats or jumping out of them, a version of the fire the coach always has on the sideline. And after the game, after everyone connected with the program could exhale because the planned New York 1,000 wins party had gone off as scheduled, his family greeted his players while he attended to his television interviews.

“Matt Jones!” Debbie said, drawing out the “n.” Jones embraced her, just as most of his teammates did after him (“His family is definitely into it,” Jones said with a smile). Krzyzewski’s family and many of the players’ families had composed a rowdy cheer section throughout the game. The support didn’t go unnoticed

“Our crowd, our parents were excellent tonight,” Quinn Cook said. “They kept us motivated, and we stayed poised.”

Krzyzewski, too, mentioned the support section.

“A cool thing for us is the parents of these kids, and they’re right behind the bench, and they’re unbelievable,” he said. “They’re so supportive and cheering.”

As Krzyzewski sat up there, alone, during his press conference, he kept going back to his foundations, the people that taught him and have supported him. There were laughs, and there was palpable relief. And tomorrow, there will be time to prepare to lead his team again.

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