Dick Jerardi: There will never be another like Coach K in hoops again

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has had a career like no other in basketball.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has had a career like no other in basketball. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: January 04, 2012

MIKE Krzyzewski's resumé is already unique in the history of American sports, not just college basketball. And the Duke coach, here with his team tonight as the Blue Devils play Temple at the Wells Fargo Center, does not appear to be nearing the finish line.

Nobody will ever come close to John Wooden's 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. But I doubt anybody will win NCAA titles nearly 20 years apart as "Coach K" did. He won his first title in 1991 and his fourth in 2010.

Krzyzewski broke his mentor Bob Knight's record for Division I wins this season. If he keeps winning at his current pace (30 wins per season over the last 15 years), he might make that record unreachable for future generations.

And just think. Many Duke fans wanted him fired after his third season ended with an 11-17 record and a 109-66 loss to Virginia. Instead, he eventually got a contract extension and beat Virginia the next 16 times. The freshmen on that 11-17 team finished 37-3 three seasons later and played Louisville for the national championship.

I was pretty sure Coach K was done winning college titles after watching Villanova run his team out of the gym in the 2009 Sweet 16 in Boston. I was wrong.

Duke won the championship a year later with a team that maximized what it did well and minimized what it did not. Coach K has won titles with the best team (1992, 2001) and without the best team (1991, 2010). He also did not win with the best team (1986, 1999, 2002). The nature of the tournament is the best team regularly does not win, but when your first Final Four was 1986 and your most recent was 2010, you have absolutely stood the most important test - time.

Coach K won the precious Olympic gold medal with Team USA in 2008 and the World Championships with a vastly different version of Team USA in 2010. He was an assistant on the best group ever assembled in any team sport, the 1992 Olympic champions. He will try for another gold medal this summer in London.

"Coaching the national team for the last 6 years has just helped make me a better coach and appreciate the game even more," Krzyzewski said on yesterday's ACC conference call.

He was hired at Duke after a 9-17 season at Army, an overall record of 73-59. No chance a coach with that kind of resumé gets hired for any high-profile job today.

And I can't imagine any college basketball coach ever having a resumé like Krzyzewski's again.

I remember walking with Coach K and Alex Wolff, of Sports Illustrated, after the winners' news conference at the 1992 Final Four in Minneapolis. I was covering my first Final Four and wanted to understand a moment in the game. It was so long ago, you actually could get that kind of time with the winning coach.

Krzyzewski's greatest team led Michigan, only 48-45, as the clock ticked to 7 minutes. The Fab Five looked dangerous. The Blue Devils looked tired. Point guard Bob Hurley was on the bench with four fouls.

Even with a media timeout coming, Coach K wanted a timeout of his own. What went down after that was so astonishing, I had to know what he felt at that moment.

"It is just a feel for the game you have," he told me.

He got Hurley back in the game and "called the UConn play." That would be the sideline out-of-bounds pass from sophomore Christian Laettner that went back right back to Laettner in the final seconds of the 1990 East Regional championship against Connecticut. Laettner's double-clutch jumper got Duke to the Final Four 2 years before the most famous shot in college basketball history got them to this one.

It was Laettner to freshman Grant Hill back to Laettner for a bucket in 1992. After that timeout, Duke scored on its final 12 possessions and won the title game, 71-51.

That would qualify as a pretty good feel for the game.

OWLS' DIFFERENCE

As lovely an offense as Temple has run the last few seasons, I really think the Owls' defense is the reason they won so many games and never beat themselves. I knew it would be different without Lavoy Allen, who Fran Dunphy said many times was the best defensive player he ever coached. What I didn't count on was the loss of big man Micheal Eric (due back at some point) and Scootie Randall (likely redshirt).

The numbers show the difference. From 2008 to 2011, the Owls were top 40 in defensive efficiency, rising all the way to seventh in 2009-10, when teams scored only 87 points per 100 possessions against them. This season, they are 81st. Teams are scoring 94.8 points per 100.

It is not that the concepts are still not sound. It is that the personnel is just so much different and the team is so small.

Temple's offense is rated 42nd (109.6 points per 100), but will surely be tested by Duke's defense tonight. Even with all the injuries, the Owls are No. 27 in the RPI and in very good position for a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.

XAVIER IN TOWN

When I watched Xavier early this season, I saw a potential Final Four team. "X" was ranked as high as No. 8.

Then, that crazy fight with Cincinnati happened. Some of Xavier's best players got suspended. The Musketeers went to Hawaii at the wrong time. They have lost four of their last five. No chance they lose some of those games with all their players. They even lost twice at home, where they never lose.

It will be interesting to see how the NCAA Tournament committee evaluates Xavier. The committee attempts to factor injuries into the at-large and seed equation, but this is kind of an unprecedented situation. The team was not unlucky, just not very smart.

Well, all of Xavier's players, including its wonderful backcourt of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, are back for the start of Atlantic 10 season, and they will be playing La Salle tonight in what has to be the most significant A-10 game for the Explorers since they joined the league in 1995.

La Salle (10-4) has won nine straight at Gola Arena. The Explorers have held seven opponents to 55 points or fewer, more than the last six seasons combined and the most since the 1954 NCAA champions held eight teams below 55 in an era when shot clocks and three-point shots were not even a college rumor.

Check out La Salle's three-point shooting tonight. In its 10 wins, La Salle is 100-for-215 (46.5 percent) from the arc. In its four losses, it is 17-for-78 (21.7 percent).

La Salle's record is not a fluke. The Explorers will be playing a very good team tonight. So will Xavier.

THIS AND THAT

* Since Villanova started its NCAA streak in 2005, the Wildcats have always had one or more really good three-point shooters. There is no single reason the Wildcats are .500 and almost certain not to make the NCAA Tournament, but one number is hard to ignore.

They are shooting only 30.3 percent from the arc, 289th nationally. They always had Corey Stokes, Scottie Reynolds, Allan Ray, somebody, often more than one somebody. So far this season, they don't.

Being unable to make long shots negates part of what Maalik Wayns does best - penetrate. He can still get to the rim or get fouled, but the penetrate-and-pitch game, the very staple of Villanova's offense, isn't much good if the jump shots don't go down.

* How good was Saint Joseph's in the first half at Harvard Saturday? The Hawks shot 19-for-24 (79.1 percent) before topping out at 21-for-26 (80.8 percent) in the first moments of the second.

They cooled off, which was inevitable, but still looked as if they had the game under control. Then, the still quite young Hawks just stopped playing, almost as if frozen by the moment.

SJU coach Phil Martelli has always said he likes "play" and not "plays." The Hawks needed something down the stretch, but never found it, losing a game they looked to have won.

Harvard clearly was part of the problem. The Crimson was brilliant in the final moments.

SJU (10-4) has played four true road games and is 1-3. The Hawks are at Duquesne tonight. If they want to be taken as seriously as their record suggests they should be taken, they need to win this game.

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