A Chat With Coach K.

Mike Krzyzewski is the all-time winningest coach in men’s college basketball history. He has 1,026 career wins, including five National Championships. Coach K. has led Team USA to a 75-1 record and to gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. He will once again coach Team USA in Rio next summer in his final Olympics. The 68-year-old also serves as a spokesman for Dupuy Synthes Companies and has had both of his hips replaced. For more information on his latest work with the company, check out the website allaboutkneepain.com.

How close were you to retiring in 1999?
I was really close because I couldn’t perform at the level that I wanted to. I spent the whole season in pain and saw my mobility taken away from me. I really could not go on the court. I had to sit during the practice.

Were you at all apprehensive about getting a hip replacement?
All my energy was sapped, and the thought of getting a hip replacement scared me. I was in such pain that I went to a physician – and we have a great one at Duke – and he explained it. After I got my hip replaced, there was no pain, and I got my mobility back. Three years later, I got my other hip replaced. In 13 years, I’ve had no pain.

What is the correct pronunciation of Krzyzewski?
You know, I couldn’t say it until I was about 7 years-old.

TVT_2430Have we been saying it wrong, is it now Shu-shev-ski?
She-shev-ski. A lot of people that I never expected to be able to pronounce it now pronounce it, but Coach K. is fine. Mike is fine too.

Kentucky almost completed an undefeated season last year, and you were on the staff at Indiana in 1974-75 that only lost one game. Do you see any similarities between those two teams?
Well, the very first thing is the great job that each coach did to be undefeated for so long – Coach Knight and Coach Calipari, to get the collection of talent that they had in each of those years to play as one. In our sport, injuries happen. That’s what happened to that Indiana team with Scott May breaking his wrist.

Did you expect to see UK in that final game?
For Kentucky, you just have, right at the end of a game, two plays that don’t work, and for the other team, Wisconsin, it does work. They’re really good. All the sudden, you lose, but it doesn’t diminish from the great performance of each team. The thing that Coach Knight had is that a lot of those guys returned the next year, and they were undefeated. Today, that’s not going to happen, and in John’s case, at Kentucky, so many of those kids went to the pros and they should have. You basically start over again.

Was there a point where you embraced the one and done rule?
We’ve never changed the way that we’ve recruited, it’s just that the times have changed, so kids are asked to leave earlier. We look at three things; we don’t embrace one and done – we embrace recruiting the type of young man that we’ve always recruited for Duke.

What are the main things you look for?
One who is talented on the court, talented in academics and has great character. That’s what we look for, and if Grant Hill and Christian Laettner and some of these guys were in today’s environment, they probably would not  be four-year players. So we haven’t changed at all; the culture has changed. We look at the same guys, and they fit into Duke. They want to come to Duke. It’s a great school. If they’re there one, two or three or four years, then we take advantage of that.

Is that an adjustment for a coach?
Well, we just wish that they follow the path that will lead them to success. Whenever they leave, if it’s a good time to leave, then they should. It’s just a new thing now, in the last decade, for kids going so early. It’s hit our program a lot, but, thank goodness, we’ve had guys who want to replace them.

What can UofL fans, coaches and players expect from the environment they’ll experience in their trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium in February?
Well, I hope they play well, but I hope they don’t win. Rick and I are great, great friends. Not good friends, great friends. I’m a big believer in Rick, and so it’ll be an honor to have Louisville come into Cameron. VT