March 27, 2014. Mike Krzyzewski wished his grandson Michael a happy 13th birthday during his postseason press conference on Duke's campus, the same day he reaffirmed his commitment to recruiting the best talent available, even if they would only be on campus for a season.
Michael, now 14, was among the many grandchildren lining a hallway in Lucas Oil Stadium early Tuesday morning as Krzyzewski was wheeled past them on a golf cart to a very different press conference, only minutes after cutting down the net.
Duke 68, Wisconsin 63, Krzyzewski five.
After Lehigh and Mercer, it seemed like Krzyzewski was headed down the wrong path. His teams, his good teams, were built differently. The focus on freshmen seemed antithetical to what had brought Duke so much success over the years, and Krzyzewski left himself open to second-guessing.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Monday, Krzyzewski proved he was right all along.
It wasn't easy. He reassessed every aspect of the program. He worked harder to build relationships with his incoming freshmen long before they arrived on campus. He played not only a little bit of zone defense but extensive zone when his team was struggling man-to-man, something his mentor Bobby Knight would never endorse.
And to a certain extent, he had no choice. At that point, last March, he was committed to Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Maybe they were just the right kids in a way Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker weren’t. Maybe Krzyzewski figured it out. Maybe it was both.
There he was after Monday had turned into Tuesday, a champion again, for the fifth time.
“They all have been different,” Krzyzewski said. “Jon Scheyer would tell you 2010 was different than 2001. In 2001, we had a heck of a lot of talent, not that Jon's team wasn't talented. The ability to adapt is key in everything. I think I've adapted well.”
There was a Kelly (Sean instead of Ryan) and a Plumlee (Marshall instead of Miles and Mason) but not much else in common with Duke's last championship team in 2010, let alone 2001 or 1992 or 1991.
Still, the irony was striking, in a season where Duke's roster was built around a trio of star freshmen: Wisconsin, with its versatile big man and array of shooters, having just knocked off an undefeated team in the Final Four, was essentially a modern version of Duke in 1991, with Kaminsky as Christian Laettner, Sam Dekker as Grant Hill.
“We don't do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year (transfer),” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That's OK. If other people do that, that's okay. I like trying to build from within. It's just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back. They said what they wanted to do, they put themselves into that position, and they won't forget this for a long time. I told them, that's life.”
Wisconsin was built the way Duke used to be built. Duke was built the way power teams are built now. Krzyzewski finally made it work.