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Krzyzewski At 700: Adaptability Rules

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  December 13, 2004 DURHAM — Until 1999, Duke basketball never had lost a player early to the NBA. But when it happened shortly after the Blue Devils, 37-2 on the season, lost to Connecticut in the NCAA title game, it opened the dam wide.

Sophomores Elton Brand and William Avery and freshman Corey Maggette departed, the latter pair without the blessings of coach Mike Krzyzewski. Brand has become an all-star and Maggette, his teammate with the Clippers, is averaging better than 20 points per game. Both have signed megabucks contracts.

Three years and a third NCAA championship (in 2001) later, Duke lost three more stars to the pros — juniors Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer (already a star and with a $68 million pact at Utah) and Mike Dunleavy. Only Dunleavy was unexpected, and he was picked third in the draft by Golden State, one position behind Williams to Chicago. It was the highest teammates had been chosen since 1969 and only the second time ever.

Then this summer, freshman Luol Deng and recruit Shaun Livingston turned pro and were drafted seventh (by the Bulls) and fourth (by the Clippers).

Suddenly, the program that had appeared to be untouchable — Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill all stayed four years and won two titles — was hit harder than any school in history.

What's happened since? In the past five years, one fifth of Krzyzewski's coaching career at Duke, his teams have had his most successful five-year period ever. Duke was 152-26 (85.4 percent). The teams that won championships in 1991 and 1992 and went to four Final Fours were only 147-32.

All of this is relevant now because Coach K became the 17th man to win 700 games when his team defeated Toledo after completing the exam break. He was one day short of being 57 years, 10 months old at the occasion, the second-youngest coach ever to reach 700. Bob Knight, his mentor at West Point, won his 700th while still at Indiana when he was 56 years, six months old. The sixth victory of this undefeated season made Krzyzewski's record 627-181 at Duke, which included 38-47 over his first three years.

There are many reasons for this Hall of Fame career, but one of the most important — and perhaps least discussed — is the ability to adapt. For an old Army captain, Coach K has demonstrated extraordinary flexibility.

Every year, he discusses the many changes that have happened to the sport he supports with such passion. He understands that doing something about things he doesn't like has become virtually impossible, although he is happy with the hands-on approach being taken by current NCAA president Myles Brand (the guy who fired Knight).

Rather than bemoan the circumstances, Krzyzewski has elected to live with them and adjust. He's still a major voice for the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and perhaps in time there will be changes happening in the NBA. But Coach K isn't waiting for anything positive to happen. He continues to adapt.

He arranged, to the satisfaction of the player's parents, for two-time national player of the year Williams to get his Duke degree in three years. Boozer, who also had decided to turn pro at the same time, will graduate this summer, as will Dunleavy, who had a full year of academic work to complete.

Strengths: Relationships, Creativity

Krzyzewski has not changed much in recruiting, other than to indicate that in the near future Duke finally may use its full complement of 13 scholarship players. The Devils will have at least five recruits coming in next summer, in what will be the school's third No. 1-rated class since 1998.

Again, Krzyzewski found a way to please a prep star and do it within the rules. Point guard Greg Paulus is considered a top basketball prospect but perhaps the nation's top football quarterback. He established all sorts of records in his high school career at Christian Brothers in Syracuse, including passing for more than 3,000 yards this season. By the time Paulus' father had second thoughts about his son signing to play only basketball for the Blue Devils, Coach K's relationship with the son was so strong that a disaster was averted.

In 2002, the coach found a loophole in the NCAA rules that permitted his team, including a host of freshmen, to travel to England while on fall break. (That rule since has been amended.) Because of the losses of Williams, Boozer and Dunleavy, Duke was short on veteran players, and the trip not only allowed the players to get in four games plus two scrimmages with pro teams but also 10 days of early practices.

Because Duke has been willing to change, and because the basketball staff studies the rulebook religiously, it is rare when the Blue Devils are caught short. They may continue to be blindsided by players going pro, but at least that has not impacted the ability to replace them.

Krzyzewski's wishes would include a change in the timing of the NBA draft, and a requirement that players announce their intentions earlier, so that it might be possible to replace them immediately. Thus far, that has not occurred, but Coach K has made do the best way he can by at all times being flexible.

He's said on several occasions this year that — having left the flirtation with the Los Angeles Lakers behind — he plans on coaching a long while. Of the six current coaches in the 700 Club still active, four are in their 70s and Eddie Sutton is 68. Knight is 64. If Krzyzewski coaches until he's 65 — he has a lifetime contract with Duke and a chair in his name at the university's Fuqua School of Business — and averages close to the 30 annual wins of the past five years, he'll be well over 900 victories.

Knight is going to pass Dean Smith's 879 wins in a couple of seasons and may well keep coaching quite a bit longer. But it is entirely possible that by the time Coach K retires at Duke, he will be the first man to win 1,000. He may be 57, but he has young ideas.