Wojciechowski builds special bond with coach Krzyzewski
The embrace said it all.
Amidst the mayhem of students storming Cameron Indoor Stadium's floor, with the final buzzer still sounding on Duke's 77-75 win over North Carolina, the legendary coach and his hard-nosed point guard stood frozen in a hug that seemed like it might last forever.
Perhaps it was fitting that on the day Mike Krzyzewski notched his 500th career victory and Steve Wojciechowski played his last game on the fabled Cameron floor, Duke would need a breathtaking comeback to steal a game that seemed well out of reach.
After all, the special bond holding Krzyzewski and Wojciechowski together in their firm post-game embrace was forged over a four-year span so tumultuous that it looked at times as though things might never turn around for either one.
"That's such a great accomplishment," Wojciechowski said of the 500th win. "To be a part of the team that got him that milestone, it means a lot to me."
It meant just as much to Krzyzewski to have the feisty "Wojo" at the helm. In the aftermath of Saturday's emotional victory, Krzyzewski glowed once more about the 5-foot-11 sparkplug whose never-say-die attitude has stolen the hearts of the Cameron Crazies and made enemies around the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I'll take my point guard through any alley, any dark street," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not saying he's the most talented, but he was remarkable today. Not 'good'-Steve Wojciechowski was remarkable. He wouldn't let us lose."
In a performance typical of Wojo's style, the pugnacious senior spearheaded a remarkable stretch run with his trademark scrappy defense and crowd-pleasing enthusiasm. Erasing a 17-point deficit, Wojciechowski helped shut down Carolina's offense where it starts, forcing Ed Cota into five crucial turnovers. Wojciechowski also dished out a game-high 11 assists in what Krzyzewski called "one of the great one-point
"As a former point guard and somebody who didn't score a lot of points, I get even more satisfaction out of watching Steve," Krzyzewski said. "For him to lead us to two straight ACC regular-season championships after being 13-18 as a freshman is particularly pleasing for me."
It wasn't the first time Krzyzewski had gushed about Wojciechowski. For reasons that go beyond their shared Polish background, Krzyzewski has showed an extra fondness for the little guy from Severna Park, Md. since the day he stepped on campus almost four years ago.
"I think it's because I love to compete," Wojciechowski said. "In some respects he sees his toughness and his competitiveness-I think he sees a little bit of that in me."
Without toughness, Wojciechowski would never have survived at Duke.
As a freshman, many expected Wojo to be the next Bobby Hurley. The all-time NCAA assist leader graduated in the spring of 1993, and Wojciechowski arrived in the fall of 1994, fulfilling a dream to join the line of legendary Duke point guards which stretched back a decade to Tommy Amaker.
"Any time a high school kid looks at Duke like I did, they can just sense the character and family atmosphere around this program," Wojciechowski explained. "They've always had great people, and beyond that, Coach K is the ultimate person to play for. He'll fight for you, he cares about you and he's a very special person."
That Duke dream quickly turned into a nightmare for Wojciechowski, when Krzyzewski's well-chronicled back injury forced him to miss the majority of the 1994-95 season, a debacle which ended with Duke's first losing record (13-18) in 12 years.
Wojciechowski was lost without his mentor. He's too short and slow to play in the ACC, critics agreed. What was Krzyzewski thinking, they asked.
"It was huge to me," Wojciechowski
"When I looked over there at the bench and didn't see him, it was a tough situation."
From the ashes of that season, though, the two somehow emerged. In Krzyzewski's first year back, the Blue Devils reversed their record to 18-13, and returned to the NCAA Tournament. Then came another low point: a stunning first-round loss to Eastern Michigan, in which an ankle injury held Wojciechowski to just three minutes of action.
The following summer, Wojciechowski spent hours working on his jumpshot and dropped 10 pounds to regain quickness he had been missing since high school. The result, a breakout season which earned Wojo second-team All-ACC honors and Duke a regular-season ACC title.
"At times it looked like it was going to be a long road," Wojciechowski admitted. "But I don't think I ever lost confidence that if I kept working hard I'd have an opportunity to make a big impact on this team."
The quick turnaround had to surprise even his biggest fan, Krzyzewski.
"To go from the bottom to winning it the last two years shows you a little bit of what Steve Wojciechowski is," Krzyzewski said. "He's been our leader."
Krzyzewski balked when asked to explain what Wojciechowski's four years have meant to him.
"I don't think these [reporters] here have enough time for that," Krzyzewski said with a long pause. "I love Wojo. I have three daughters; I'd love to have Wojo join us-it would shorten his name."
The affection is mutual. Wojciechowski isn't shy about telling people just how important his relationship with Coach K has been.
"I feel like hopefully I have a special place in his heart," Wojciechowski said, "because I know he has the biggest place in my heart."