Title was only a matter of time for Krzyzewski

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2001

Everyone else wondered when the next one was coming. Not Mike Krzyzewski.

One thing Coach K knows how to do is wait. He doesn't demand confirmation of his genius every trip down the floor. He is not one of those raving sideline acts whose temperament is in constant need of icing down. His insides might be churning all the while, but most of the time his expression was as neutral as the shot clock.

Because he knows Duke's time is coming.

That's the difference between building a program and building a team. It's the reason he's been in seven national championship games in the past 16 years. When you get good players and prepare them the right way game after game, season after season, without taking short cuts, the way Krzyzewski has through 21 seasons now, you always have a chance.

Duke finally cashed in another of those chances Monday night, handing Krzyzewski his third NCAA title nine seasons after the last one. The Blue Devils took the same route through the same regional sites -- Greensboro, N.C., then Philadelphia -- and wound playing for the title in the same building where they beat Michigan in 1992.

But on the eve of the title game against Arizona, when someone asked him whether he was a ''karma guy,'' this is what Krzyzewski said: ''I'm an inner-city Chicago guy. We don't do karma stuff.''

Behind that answer is a childhood spent watching immigrant parents work like dogs so he could have opportunities they never did. It's the same lesson he passes on to the kids who play for him. Work hard, sacrifice. Pass up the shortcuts. Never rely on destiny or luck.

''They gave me their hearts,'' Krzyzewski said moments after Duke's 82-72 win over the Wildcats gave him a third national championship. ''Not only that, they gave them to each other. They're like old-fashioned guys. I wish I could coach them longer.''

Monday night, the guy roaming the other sideline, Arizona coach Lute Olson, had all the sympathy. He also had five starters who will probably wind up in the NBA. Krzyzewski knew all about the first part; he was close to Olson and as much an admirer of the late Bobbi Olson as there was in the coaching fraternity. But the game was only a few minutes old when he figured out how much talent was arrayed against his young Blue Devils.

''I didn't realize how good they were until they started the game,'' he recalled. ''That's when I looked over at (assistant) Johnny Dawkins and said, 'They're better.' ''

Instead of panic, Krzyzewski felt something akin to admiration. In his world, being the best means beating the best. That's what he tried to sell his kids at halftime, when the Blue Devils were hanging on to a 35-33 lead by their fingernails.

''If you have a chance to hear him speak, you should check out the session,'' center Carlos Boozer said. ''Everything he says you just believe instantly.''

But Coach K does more than talk. Earlier this season, Mike Dunleavy missed two free throws in the closing seconds of Duke's first loss of the season, 84-83 at Stanford. Instead of giving the sophomore forward less responsibility, Krzyzewski gave him more.

It paid off in the opening minutes of the second half, when Dunleavy took over a game filled with bigger stars on both sides by drilling three straight 3-point shots to open a 50-42 Duke lead. Then he moved from the perimeter down to the baseline for three quick baskets, stepped outside for another 3 and turned the game over to Shane Battier down the stretch.

''I'm sure the rest of the guys were thinking, 'It's about time,' '' Dunleavy said.

''Especially his roommate,'' Battier chimed in.

Battier, the college player of the year, finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds and capped off his senior year with a championship and the game's most outstanding player award. He was proof of all those virtues Krzyzewski tirelessly pushes all the time -- dedication, curiosity, patience.

''I'm lucky to have known him,'' Battier said. ''I know he'll be one of my most valuable friends for life.''

Krzyzewski builds friendships the way he built his program -- for the long haul. He learned long ago that no one wins all the time, and that honest preparation sometimes is a reward in itself. That's what made the waiting so much easier.

''When we came down here, we knew he'd been here and we thought we had an advantage,'' Boozer said. ''We just followed.''

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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