By David Glenn and staff
July 1, 2008
For many years, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has been the least accessible coach in the ACC.
Even those writers who cover the Blue Devils on a full-time basis typically are limited during the season to mandatory post-game press conferences, plus the mandatory weekly teleconferences coordinated by the league office. In addition, the coach has farmed out halftime and postgame television interviews to his assistants for some time. Extended, one-on-one conversations with him are few and far between.
Of course, Coach K is by all accounts one of the busiest coaches in the nation, too, which is one logical reason for his more limited availability.
Beyond his coaching duties, he's a husband, a father, a grandfather, an author (four books), a public speaker (represented by Washington Speakers Bureau), a radio host (XM's "Basketball and Beyond With Coach K"), a corporate pitchman (Allstate, American Express, General Motors, Nike), and a charity/community leader (Emily Krzyzewski Family Center, V Foundation For Cancer Research, etc.), among many other things.
His already-loaded schedule added another responsibility in October 2005, when he agreed to become the head coach for the United States senior national team during the three-year stretch leading up to this summer's Olympic Games, which will be held Aug. 8-24 in Beijing, China.
ACC Sports Journal correspondent Adam Gold, an award-winning host for Sports Radio 850 The Buzz in Raleigh, N.C., recently sat down for a rare, one-on-one conversation with Krzyzewski.
Here are excerpts from their conversation:
It's a very important summer for USA Basketball. It hasn't been that long since winning Olympic Gold in Sydney in 2000, but it's been a struggle since then in all international competitions. Why has it been so hard to get back on top?
Krzyzewski: Because the world is good.
Roughly 30 percent of the players in the NBA are international players, and they've also played together for a long time. In some cases, some of these guys have played together for 8-10 years, and they've played their game. It's a different game than the NBA or college game, and when you go out and play against a team that's really good and instinctively better at their game and comfortable with each other, they can beat you.
Have people underestimated the difference between the international game and either the NBA or college game?
Krzyzewski: Either underestimated it or ignored it or were arrogant about it.
Let's enjoy the beauty of the international game. We did this last year, and we'll do it again. We'll bring in international officials, choose a select team, and coach them the way countries like Spain, Brazil and Argentina play, and call the game the way it would be called. We'll even stop the game and explain what you can and can't do.
That's respecting the game. I think our guys respect the game, but you have to learn to respect the international game. It's different. And I think the international community respects us for doing that. Instead of us saying, "it's our game," well, it's not our game, it's the world's game.
If it was our game, then 30 percent of the NBA wouldn't be international players. And that number is expanding. In five years, that number will be closer to 50 percent. And depending on how they start building arenas in Europe, there will be NBA franchises in Europe. There's no question about that.
In two years, FIBA is going to start changing rules to be more like the NBA game. They're going to take out the trapezoid lane, for one thing, and the reason for that is because they're going to have NBA teams in Europe.
There's another element to the lack of dominance by the United States in international basketball competitions, and we don't see it in just basketball. We see it in the Ryder Cup, we saw it at the World Baseball Classic. It seems as though winning is just more important to them than it is to us.
Krzyzewski: I don't know if they want it more, and we'll speak about basketball here, but the international players in the NBA are really good and they have a good ego.
But those same players, when they're playing for their country, their egos are multiplied. That player has a much higher opinion of who he is, and he's playing in a no-lose situation – especially when he's playing against the United States, because the USA is expected to win. If there's a big talent differential, then you can still win those games, but now that the gap has narrowed it's a lot tougher. Then throw in the fact that they're more comfortable playing with each other and by their rules, and you can see why it's difficult.
We need to get our guys to expand their egos to match that of the international player. We have a great group of guys to choose from, but we need to get our players to continue to play with the same ego of an NBA star, even if they might be the seventh, eighth or 12th man on the team, and that's not easy. You're used to starting a game and playing 40 minutes, but now you might play eight, or 12, or 18 minutes. It even changes the way you warm up for a game. Plus, the game is shorter – 40 minutes instead of 48 – and it's a single-elimination tournament instead of a seven-game series.
With all of that said, would it benefit the roster to select players who were more comfortable coming off the bench, as opposed to a team with stars two-deep at every position?
Krzyzewski: I think the talent level is more important. You have to look the player in the eye and ask him if he can handle that role. "What if you're the 12th guy. Can you handle that?" And that person needs to be able to say to you, "Whatever you need me to do, I will do."
I would rather have the really talented player with that attitude, and I can trust him, than a player of lesser talent that's more used to that role.
Who was that guy last summer in Las Vegas?
Krzyzewski: Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd to an extent.
You know, 40 minutes just goes by so fast. You can't play 12 guys unless you're blowing someone out. So the team has to be built around eight or nine guys, and this team has be built around Kobe Bryant and LeBron James – and Carmelo Anthony, who was actually our leading scorer.
Carmelo is a great player for the international game because he creates a lot of mismatches at the "four." He can spread the floor at that position and open up the court for Kobe and LeBron, and a lot of times he gets lost. He's a guy that can get you 20 points and touch the ball for only 35 seconds.
Has Kobe Bryant used USA Basketball to help rehabilitate his public image?
Krzyzewski: I think people make mistakes. Our society is about second – and even third or fourth – chances. And I think you want to see people trying when they have those opportunities.
In Kobe's case, he's accepted the responsibilities of what happened a few years ago. As far as what happened last summer with the Lakers, I think he realizes that he's in his prime … and he wants to win. I think he was misrepresented as a prima donna. He wants to win.
What USA Basketball gave him was a chance to show that he wants to play the entire game, that he's willing to do whatever it takes. He started out playing defense, diving for loose balls, being a leader, making sure he was behind everybody, and I think it had an impact on what he did this year with the Lakers. He's the best player – LeBron is right there – and he wants that, too.
Do Kobe and LeBron get along?
Krzyzewski: They do, very well. And they can do this, they want to do it, and they'll prepare to do it. A lot of people want to do it, but not many are willing to pay the price.
These two guys will pay the price, and I really love those two guys and admire them. If people worked as hard as those two guys – even our guys here at Duke, and I think they work hard – they just have no idea.
With the understanding that all things are relative, and like New York Yankees baseball or Notre Dame football you are judged against your past success, why hasn't Duke been Duke the last two years?
Krzyzewski: I don't think we're that far removed from it. We've won 50 games the last two years, which is really good. And it's not just Duke, it's Duke while I'm coaching here. And I'm OK with that, I just have to make sure that our players don't forget to appreciate the process.
We've gone to 10 Final Fours since 1986. What's that, 22 years? That means that there are 12 years in which we did not go to the Final Four. What did we do in those years? Did we win 22 games? Did we win 28, 13 or 18? Yeah, we did all those things. And then we went to a Final Four. So there's not this continuity for a team to go to a Final Four every year.
What I'm saying is, these kids have to learn what it is to lose against West Virginia or VCU. That's not saying we want to lose to those teams. But some of our teams in the past have lost to those types of teams, and that was Duke.
The run we've had in the last 25 years at Duke is phenomenal. We've averaged, I think, 28 wins a year. You've got to be kidding me!
The attempt to go to a Final Four, the attempt to win a national championship, that's what we've got to go after. And we can continue to do that. Whether you get it or not is a different story.
And, let's face it, we're in an area that's dominated by North Carolina. And if we're not going to do well, then we're going to deal with it more than we would if we were an Ohio State or an Indiana – a state school, with little competition (nearby). But because of the most unique rivalry in sport, whoever is not going to the Final Four has had a poor year if the other guy has.
It adds to the difficulty.
Krzyzewski: No, it multiplies. (Laugh.) This rivalry is not about adding or subtracting, it's at a much quicker and more pronounced level. But I like that. I'm a competitive person. I recognize who we are and applaud the accomplishments of those teams we are competing against.
Are we going to be there again, this year? We're going to be a really good team. We did not play well in March last year, there's no question about that. If I knew all the answers then, we'd have changed something. But we take responsibility when we win and when we lose.
The Belmont game in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament was a close shave, but it also was one of the most fun and exciting games in NCAA early round history.
Krzyzewski: And it was really a lot of fun for you since you weren't on our bench. That game was the beauty of the tournament. There's not a whole lot separating teams, as there used to be. A lot of teams are capable of winning.
Unless you have that one special player to help you create separation – and for us over the years, it's been a (Christian) Laettner, a (Shane) Battier, a Jason Williams, a player who can be a national player of the year, and we've been lucky, since we've had seven – then you have a chance (to lose to a big underdog).
From Elton Brand to Carlos Boozer to Shelden Williams, Duke hasn't had the shortage of quality big men over the last decade that the public seems to perceive. How does Duke overcome that perception?
Krzyzewski: Did we play without having a big guy last year? Yes. The guy we should have had last year to play anywhere from 18-24 minutes was Brian Zoubek, but he was hurt. It's not like the pros, where we can go make a trade or get a guy on a 10-day contract.
I thought our team was fresh at the end of the year, but that Kyle Singler was really worn out. Brian is a guy that we believe in, either as a starter or a key player. Lance Thomas was a sophomore and weighed 215 pounds. Kyle was a freshman and weighed 220 at the most.
Those guys will be better and stronger this year. We had enough that we should have had an inside game, but we didn't. We won 28 games last year by accentuating the positives of our team and trying to hide our weaknesses, but it caught up with us due to the injuries and Kyle being worn out.
Is there a healthy relationship between the NCAA and the NBA?
Krzyzewski: It's healthy, but it's really two entities that don't know each other very well. It's getting better. About three years ago, (NCAA president) Myles Brand and I talked about some things, and one of the things I stressed was that the NBA and NCAA had never talked.
That doesn't make any sense.
Krzyzewski: Exactly. But a couple of years ago, we were finally able to do that, and we had a big summit. We invited representatives of AAU basketball and the shoe companies.
I remember talking with Myles when it was over, and he was upset because he didn't feel as though anything was accomplished. I told him, "You absolutely did accomplish something." He said, "What was that?" … "You had your first meeting. You actually talked. It was a historic thing. It wasn't about accomplishing anything else, other than establishing the fact that you could talk."
Since then, the NBA and the NCAA have announced – at the Final Four – a cooperative effort to better deal with youth basketball. But we have to continue to talk to the NBA, because whether we like it or not the NBA affects the college game so much.
The rule right now that says you have to go to school for one year is a big deal. Is that the best rule? When do you have the draft? When do you try kids out? When do kids have to declare? Can you declare and come back? There should be a summit to figure out a timeline that works best for both parties, and if we continue to talk maybe we can get together on something.
It's not like we have a bad relationship with the NBA. It's just the development of the relationship. But I think it's there right now. I know both parties really well, (NBA commissioner) David Stern and Myles Brand. They're good guys. They're both really smart. Stern is as good a commissioner as there is in sports, and I think Myles has done a great job with the NCAA.
This is the time. Maybe we can get going, because we need it. If we don't do anything, our game is going to suffer.
It seems like every draft rule that the NBA enacted ultimately hurt college basketball. The first rule, in 1995, established the rookie wage scales, and agents told players to get into the draft early so they could get to their second contracts. Or when they allowed teams out of their commitments to players after two years, which seems unfair to the players they already have convinced to leave school prematurely in many cases. Now we have this "one and done" rule, which certainly hasn't helped.
Krzyzewski: I think it has to be a combination.
For players, if you're really good, you want a shorter first contract because a player really leads a dog's life. Your career is going to be 12 years at the most. In your lifetime, you'd like to get two really big contracts. The initial one is not that important – at least not as important as the second one, especially what they call "max" contracts. And if you're very good, you stand to get two or even three "max" contracts.
LeBron James signed a "max" contract for just three years, so he's going to have the opportunity to even decide where he wants to play at the end of this deal. Will he sign then for three years or five years?
I think kids should be able to go right out of high school. Half of the Olympic team that I coach are kids that came straight out of high school, and they're great. But if you go to college, I think you should have to stay for two years. What that does is, it shows respect for the academic community and the culture of college basketball, and you're not just here for one year.
If you're here two years, and you put a summer school in before your freshman year and another summer in between, you're more than halfway to earning a college degree. But, more importantly, you've been educated. You've had to take core courses. You might not have had to declare a major yet, but you are actually a part of that community. And we owe that, as long as we're playing "college basketball," to consider that being part of the equation while at the same time respecting the rights of a high school player to make a decision to come out or to go to school for two years.
I think that combination, or something like it, would really be the way to go.
Is it fundamentally unfair, in your view, that a high school graduate can't go directly to the NBA?
Let's not single out basketball players and say they're in a way despicable because they don't want to go to school. A lot of baseball players don't go to college. Same thing with tennis players. Look, if a high school kid thinks he can do it, and if those around him think he can, then let him do it.
But then the NBA needs to develop a system, which they have done better now with the development league. It's getting better now, because some NBA teams actually own developmental teams. It's a little bit more like a minor league. Baseball has that – A, double-A, triple-A. They have a system, and their rule is that you can go right out of high school, but if you don't you have to stay in school for three years.
In football, you can't go and you have to stay for three years. If I'm a really good running back, I'm not sure I like that, because my career is about three or four years long. Who's using who in that respect?
What is life going to be like without Johnny Dawkins on your bench?
Krzyzewski: Wow! We're going to have to adjust.
In the history of our program, no one has helped Duke basketball more as a player, as a pro and as an associate than Johnny. He is really vested in this basketball program and deserves the opportunity to run his own program. I'm just so thankful that he's been fortunate enough to go to a place that is so similar to Duke. I think Stanford is really lucky to have him.
I also think that we'll see (associate head coaches) Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins step up and take on more responsibility. (New assistant) Nate James will be a great fit as a third assistant, and (director of basketball operations) Chris Spatola will take on a larger role as well.
Change due to adversity is really difficult. But change as the result of something great happening, that's the best.
Plus, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said that Dawkins was eventually going back to Duke to succeed you, right?
Krzyzewski: How about that? I thought that Bob was going to be our West Coast AD. (Laughs.)
Happy with the hiring of Kevin White?
Krzyzewski: I like him a lot.
I've known him for a while. He hired (former Duke assistant coach) Mike Brey. I think Mike was his first hire as Notre Dame's athletic director.
He automatically brings the Duke athletic department to a higher level, just because of his standing within the NCAA community, his knowledge, his experience. It's really a great hire.
I have to applaud our president, Richard Brodhead, and the head of the search committee, Roy Bostock, because we got a great recruit here. I'm going to enjoy working with him.
What is the importance of football to Duke University?
Krzyzewski: I think it's really important.
If you're going to have an all-around athletic department, then you want to achieve balance. You want to have excellence. That doesn't mean you have to win championships, but you want the ability to compete for it.
Duke has that ability (in football), they just haven't been able to figure out how to do it over the last two decades. I think what we've done in the hiring of David Cutcliffe and Kevin White is to say, "Show us how to do this. David, show us how to run this football program, and we're going to be behind you. Kevin, you come up with the ideas, and we'll come up with the commitment."
I love that our school has done this. I think these two hires will lead, over the next decade, to some really special things that Duke hasn't experienced for a very long time. We have a heck of an athletic department, we just haven't had a very good football program. But now we have two people, especially our head football coach, and a commitment by the university that we haven't had before.
Have an idea for another "1-On-1" subject for the ACC Sports Journal? (We already have 18 of them planned for 2008-09, in the Sports Journal and at ACCSports.com, including many high-profile ACC administrators, coaches and current/former athletes.) Please send your comments and/or suggestions to editor David Glenn at firstname.lastname@example.org.