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Krzyzewski Rested, Excited, Confident

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



June 27, 2007

DURHAM – Mike Krzyzewski recently sat on the stage, just above the basketball court at the Emily Krzyzewski Community Center, and talked to some three-dozen media types about his summer plans.

The Duke coach is doing double duty these days – not only trying to restore his basketball dynasty in Durham after a rare "off" season, but also trying to guide America's national team back to the top of the world.

He's been handling both jobs for a year and will be juggling them again this summer. With that prospect ahead, the Duke coach took three weeks off in May to recharge himself physically and mentally.

"My wife said I should take some time off," Krzyzewski said. "I went away with my family down to the shore in North Carolina and had a chance (to relax). I feel really good physically. … I feel great! Energetic! I think the time away was great."

Krzyzewski is having a busy summer. He'll hit the recruiting trail in July, taking time out for a three-day mini-camp for Team USA in Las Vegas. He'll then guide a team of NBA veterans, also in Las Vegas, at the Tournament of Champions in August. It's an important event, as the top two teams will qualify for the Olympics. The next three finishers will have to compete in a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next June.

The United States has not won a major international basketball event since the 2000 Olympic Games. Krzyzewski was hired as part of a three-year plan to win the gold medal in China next summer. He led Team USA to a third-place finish in last summer's World Championships in Japan.

But the distraction of the international event came just as his Duke team was hitting a decade-long low. For most programs, a 22-11 season wouldn't be that bad, but by the standards Krzyzewski has established over the last 30 years at Duke, it was just short of a disaster.

The season ended on a sour note, as Eric Maynor's last-second jumper gave Virginia Commonwealth a come-from-behind victory over the favored Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A reporter wanted to know what went through Krzyzewski's mind as Maynor's shot connected.

"The very first thing is, we didn't deserve to win," he said. "I've been that way my entire career. I know when we deserve to win. If we had been deserving, I would have been more emotional about losing. Shake their hands – they deserved to win.

"Then you look at, why did they deserve to win and we didn't? That's the process of how you get better."

Krzyzewski said he did a lot of thinking about that question this spring.

"I don't run now, but I still walk, especially at the beach," he said. "Each day I'd go walk for at least an hour, and while you're doing that, it gives you a chance to think. I thought about my teams – my national team and my Duke team. That's what I do. I don't watch the Sopranos, and I don't care about the last episode. I love what I do and I'm excited about both teams."

So what does he think about next year's Duke team?

"We're going to be a better basketball team," he said. "We'll have more players and better competition. They're older. I think we have a better chance to be better now than at any time last year … at any time last year! How do we do that? We'll have more depth. We have the makings of a very good basketball team, I think."

Indeed, Duke lost just one player off last year's team – sophomore big man Josh McRoberts, who opted for the NBA draft. One reporter wondered how Coach K would handle the loss of his best rebounder and shotblocker? Considering that the Blue Devils failed to land frontcourt prospect Patrick Patterson, who signed with Kentucky in May, might not the Devils be too small to compete at the highest levels next season?

"My first Final Four team didn't have a center, and we had two of the smallest guards in the league," Krzyzewski said. "We haven't really had huge teams. I'm alright with who we are."

Does that mean Duke will run more next season? Shoot more three-pointers?

"I don't know," Krzyzewski said. "I've got to see. All my players will come back different. If I answer your question definitely, then I'd already have prejudged what I'm going to do, and that goes completely against how I coach. I want to watch them and see. What if (7-2 Brian) Zoubek comes back at 260 (pounds) and says, ‘Coach, if I don't get the ball, I'm going to beat the hell out of you'?

"I just want to see how things happen. We just have to give them time to grow. I'm not worried that we can't rebound or we can't play defense. With the kids we have, we should be able to rebound and play defense, and we should be able to compete in every game that we play in. I know that we'll figure out a way."

FRESHMEN, SOPHOMORES STRONG

Krzyzewski expects to get major help from his three freshmen – 6-8 Kyle Singler, 6-7 Taylor King and 6-4 Nolan Smith. All were prep All-Americans.

"They're three talented kids," the Duke coach said. "Singler is just a special player. He gets it. He already has a great feel for the game.

"Each of our kids won championships. Singler's team won the state championship in Oregon. King's team won it in California. Nolan Smith's team won the mythical national championship. They were 40-1. So they're accustomed to winning, and they were the best players on those teams. So they bring some intangibles that I like a lot."

Krzyzewski is anxious to see what kind of changes have been wrought in last year's four freshmen. Will any of them make significant improvement going into their sophomore season?

"They were more closely scrutinized than a normal freshman because they didn't have a senior that you were focusing on," he said. "When (Greg) Paulus and McRoberts were freshmen the year before and any time they played alright, it was like, ‘Boy, he's got potential.' Then a game they scored two points, (J.J.) Redick got 34 and people didn't look at that. When you have that marquee player, freshmen are able to develop without as much scrutiny.

"For the most part, I was pleased with our freshman class. They all had opportunities to start. So they had an incredible amount of experience, plus the experience of being closely scrutinized. So coming into this season, I think we have a lot of veterans. I think we're a lot more veteran than you would normally say a predominately sophomore-junior team would be."

Krzyzewski provided updates on point guard Greg Paulus and wing guard Marty Pocius, who both are recovering nicely after offseason surgery.

"Greg just started playing, so he was out over three months," Krzyzewski said. "Marty still hasn't started playing pickup, but he's shooting. Both those kids played hurt last year and never made any excuses."

Krzyzewski still has to take care of Team USA this summer before he can start putting Duke basketball back together again in the fall. But he sounds ready – and optimistic – about handling both chores in the coming months.