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There will never be another like Coach K in college basketball again

By Dick Jerardi, Philadelphia Daily News –

PHILADELPHIA — Mike Krzyzewski’s resume is already unique in the history of American sports, not just college basketball. And the Duke coach does not appear to be nearing the finish line, despite losing to Temple, 78-73, on Wednesday night.

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 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 six years has just helped make me a better coach and appreciate the game even more,” Krzyzewski said on Tuesday’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 resume gets hired for any high-profile job today.

And I can’t imagine any college basketball coach ever having a resume 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 seven 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 two 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 that 1992 title game. After that timeout, Duke scored on its final 12 possessions and won, 71-51.

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

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