Barring any major hiccups, I will graduate in a few weeks with a degree in public policy, a minor in English and a certificate in policy journalism and media studies.
But there’s one field of study—which I’ve put in enough time for to earn a major—that won’t be printed on my diploma: Krzyzewskiology.
To varying degrees, most Duke students deserve to graduate with a minor in K-ology. Even from a distance, there are tremendous life lessons to be learned from the way Mike Krzyzewski coaches the team, runs a program and demonstrates Duke’s best qualities on a national stage.
As a basketball writer and sports editor for The Chronicle, I’ve had the privilege of studying Krzyzewskiology from up close: Sitting on press row, attending his press conferences and speaking to his players. I never got around to writing a thesis for my Krzyzewskiology major, but the following stories would definitely be included because in some way or another, I learned a whole bunch more from sitting in those press conferences than I ever did in a classroom.
The first time, I was a freshman. I wasn’t scared, but I was passive. Duke beat Virginia 56-41, but Kyle Singler—amid his senior-year funk—had more turnovers and fouls than points. A reporter asked Coach K about Singler’s poor performance. Having some fun with the question, Coach K told the writer that he sometimes writes terrible stories, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good reporter.
Now, there have been instances in which Coach K hasn’t been enamored with the journalism produced by The Chronicle. Just a year earlier, he called it “unbelievable” when a columnist suggested he bench Singler, during his junior year. (In fairness, the notion that they should have benched the eventual Final Four Most Outstanding Player was pretty unbelievable). There were incidents before that too, and so I always learned to pick my words carefully around Coach K, both in print and in press conferences. This wasn’t out of fear, but it’s important to remember that if you say or write anything, you better be willing to put your face next to it if somebody challenges it. Because they will.
Like the time I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column making fake prop bets for this upcoming season. This included a “Doghouse Power Rankings,” which featured then-slumping Rasheed Sulaimon at No. 1. “You know who’s in the doghouse? You are,” he said to me at the next press conference. "I have one dog, his name is Blue, and he doesn't even live in a house…. None of my guys are in a doghouse."
Now, I don’t think Coach K hated me all of a sudden because he didn’t agree with a facetious aside in an otherwise harmless piece. (As my parents insisted, this comment was actually a good thing: “It means he reads your columns!”) And only days earlier, Coach K and I had a “kumbaya experience.” Those were his words, not mine: After I asked a question about a player, Coach K said he would need to watch the film to properly evaluate his play, then asking me to assess his own performance at the press conference. Playing his game, I replied that I couldn’t until I went back to watch it on tape. “At least you have empathy for me,” he said. “This is a kumbaya experience for us. This is terrific.” (Personally, I thought our first kumbaya moment came when we spoke at the end of the last year, and I mentioned no longer being The Chronicle’s sports editor, to which he asked if that were like him stepping down to be an assistant with Wojo becoming head coach. Hint, hint? Nah.)
I wouldn’t go as far as saying my interactions with Coach K have been unique—he loves a good back-and-forth with plenty of reporters. But they have provided me with a unique learning experience: I took Krzyzewskiology during my four most formative years as a journalist.
I could try and boil down these lessons and others if I really tried: Pick your battles, choose your words carefully, ask a 20-word question in five (or else you might get cut off), learn to banter well, lead by example, always act as if you’re under a microscope. But then again, as I learned in English, Cliffnotes aren’t the same as the real thing.
I’m not sure what my cumulative GPA in Krzyzewskiology was. I hopefully wrote some good stories. I definitely wrote some not-so-good ones. But as a pretty smart guy once said, “If you were reading, I know I was doing something right.”
In the end, I’m just grateful that Duke offers Krzyzewskiology. It’s the only place that does.
Andrew Beaton is a Trinity senior. He served as sports editor of The Chronicle's Volume 108.