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Mike Krzyzewski: Looking back at the career of a legendary Duke Basketball coach

ByAndrew Pistone

4 min read

Mike Krzyzewski: Looking back at the career of a legendary Duke Basketball coach

Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most familiar, iconic figures in the history of college sports. Coach K has presided over the Blue Devils program since the 1980-1981 season, and has won five national championships in his illustrious career. His teams have been on the winning side after the final buzzer a mind blowing 1,544 times, including victories earned in the NCAA tournament.

However, all good things must come to an end, and after Coach K wraps up his 47th season leading a men’s college team, he will call it a career. For what it is worth, Duke is off to a red-hot start this season, led by freshman Paolo Banchero and junior Wendell Moore. As the current crop of players looks to send off the Hall of Famer in style, we’ll take a look back at his tremendously successful resume.

Before Duke

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that certain legendary coaches actually paid their dues at a school other than the one we associate them with. For example, John Wooden wasn’t always at UCLA, and Bob Knight wasn’t always at the University of Indiana. The same pattern holds true for Coach K, who spent the first five seasons of his coaching career at Army. It was a natural progression for the young man, as he attended Army and was a player for the team before transitioning into the big chair. He did a decent job running the program, ending up with a 73-59 record.

Laying A Foundation In Durham

Throughout the 1970’s, Duke basketball was far from anyone’s idea of a blueblood. They finished under .500 in the conference in five seasons throughout that decade. Coach Bill E. Foster did have some successful seasons towards the end of the 1970’s, but the program was ripe for a new voice, and a new vision. Enter Coach K in 1980, who established the groundwork for the type of teams fans have known for the last 40 years.

In 1983 and 1984, the Blue Devils made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, bowing out in the second round in each campaign. However, those years helped the school turn the corner, and establish momentum for what they would eventually become. Modern fans know Johnny Dawkins as a coach, and Jay Bilas as perhaps the pre-eminent analyst in the college game, but both men were on those teams as collegiate athletes, and deserve a lot of credit along with Coach K for the growth of the program.

Becoming A National Power

Duke remained relevant in the national championship discussion for the remainder of the 1980’s, but really started to gain national attention(and perhaps notoriety), towards the end of the decade. Those teams featured a well known underclassman named Christian Laettner, and memorable players such as Danny Ferry and Bobby Hurley.

From 1989-1993, the Blue Devils appeared in the national championship game four times. Heralded forward Grant Hill arrived on to the scene in 1990, helping to secure titles in two of those years. As talented as that team was, Hill recalls the amount of confidence Coach K had in his team in the early 90’s.

“Coach K goes to the board, and puts on the board ‘1991 national champions’. And I’m thinking, does he not know that UNLV is still a thing?” Hill remembered. “They just beat us and have everybody back…I didn’t see it at that moment. Via Essentiallysports.com

U.S. Men’s National Team

Much later in his career, Coach K was tabbed as the head coach of the United States men’s senior national team. Considering his resume, the honor and opportunity was well deserved, but it was an interesting selection since Coach K has never coached in the NBA. Would he have to change his style in order to communicate effectively with multi-millionaire grown men?

As it turned out, his record from 2005-2016 in international competition had very few blemishes, which proved he could coach at any level. The team went 60-1 under Coach K during that span in official competitions, which included gold medals in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“About four years ago I was asked about Coach K’s return and what I said then is still true now-when you have a good thing going you don’t mess with it,” said USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo. “He was and still is the right man to coach the USA National Team. Via USAB.com

Notable Alumni Who Played Under Coach K

There isn’t an NBA fan alive under the age of 35 who aren’t at least somewhat well acquainted with some of the stars who played their college ball under Coach K at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hill and Laettner got the ball rolling for high profile players at the school, which opened the door for a litany of top prospects. Here are some of the most popular names who played under the fabled coach:

  • Guards: Jay Williams, J.J. Redick, Kyrie Irving
  • Forwards: Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson
  • Centers: Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer
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