When Duke played Army on Nov. 25, 2000, assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski wrote an unofficial scouting report on the Black Knights’ star point guard Chris Spatola.
The dirt: He’s handsome.
The official scouting report—detailing his skill running the Army offense—still hangs on the wall in Spatola’s office, but Wojciechowski wrote a facetious one for Jamie Krzyzewski, the daughter of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who Spatola was dating at the time.
“I changed some of the scouting for what a girlfriend would think,” Wojciechowski said.
Spatola and Jamie married in 2004 and after finishing five years of military service, Spatola returned to Duke where he served as a graduate assistant for a season before being promoted to director of basketball operations in 2008, sitting alongside his father-in-law at every basketball game.
At the end of last season, though, Spatola told Mike Krzyzewski he was interested in a fresh perspective. Wanting to see “the other side of athletics,” Spatola left his job as director of basketball operations and got two new jobs: special assistant to Duke athletic director Kevin White and college basketball broadcaster for the Pac-12 and CBS Sports networks.
“The main advice [was] to follow your heart,” Krzyzewski said. “If he was doing something passionately that I didn’t think he had the skill set to do, I would’ve said don’t do that. But he does.”
Spatola was afraid there could be a conflict of interest as a member of the media still employed by Duke. But his situation is not unique— Joe Lunardi, an ESPN college basketball “bracketologist,” is also a vice president for marketing communications at Saint Joseph’s.
Spatola turned to Jay Bilas, a former Blue Devil turned broadcaster, for advice on how to handle the situation. Bilas, like Spatola, was an assistant at Duke before moving to broadcasting and also juggles two jobs, doubling as a lawyer and college basketball analyst for ESPN.
Bilas was impressed that Spatola took the time to “do his homework” and reach out to him, something he attributed to the military background and the culture of ultra-preparedness that both he and Krzyzewski have instilled in them.
“I told him the advice that his father-in-law gave me when I first started: Don’t ever pull any punches when it comes to Duke,” Bilas said. “[Krzyzewski’s] thing was, if you want people to believe what you say, tell the truth.”
Throughout the entire journey, whether it was leaving the service to come to Durham or deciding to leave his role with the basketball team, Spatola knew the one person he could turn to advice was Krzyzewski, who could advise him as his boss and father-in-law.
“I went to him as both,” Spatola said. “We definitely share [the bond of being in the army]…. Our career paths have been very similar.”
Spatola has spent the year broadcasting games along the likes of Reggie Miller. He will call the Army-Lehigh game Saturday—Spatola’s alma-mater against the school that knocked the Blue Devils out of the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64 last season.
Both jobs, working for White and broadcasting, require Spatola to spend time on the road, but they have also opened up more time for him to spend with Jamie and their two children, who are 3 and 1 years old.
“This as far as time consumption has been much more consistent, so you’re not getting back at 2 a.m. on road trips,” Spatola said. “[My family] went on a three-day vacation to the mountains on New Years’ Eve, and I don’t remember the last time I celebrated New Years’ Eve…. That’s definitely been a residual benefit.”
Working for White, Spatola has gained an administrative perspective on athletics, different from the one he saw spending every day with the basketball team. Now having worked for both White and Krzyzewski, Spatola has observed many similarities between the two, qualities that make them the “best in the business.”
“They’re both very good managers in that they allow the people who work for them to be creative, be talented and do their job—they don’t micromanage,” Spatola said. “But you always know when you go to them, they’ll give you the honest truth, they’ll give you great advice. There’s a confidence around both of them.”
Part of his work in the athletic department has been visiting and evaluating other schools’ athletic facilities as Duke seeks to expand its own as a part of the Duke Forward capital campaign that has a goal of raising $250 million for athletics, $100 million of it to improve facilitates.
Spatola added that Virginia, North Carolina and Stanford had particularly noteworthy facilities. While at Stanford, he had the chance to see two familiar faces: Johnny Dawkins and Mike Schrage. Dawkins, the current Stanford head coach, formerly played for Duke and served as an assistant for Krzyzewski. Schrage was the director of basketball operations for six seasons prior to Spatola.
Although more removed from the basketball team now, Spatola said current players on the team will visit him in his office, and he can provide a more objective perspective on their performance and the team because he is no longer so close to it.
And he still remains close to Wojciechowski, fellow associate head coach Chris Collins and other members of the staff, regularly playing in pickup basketball games with them. Wojciechowski said Spatola still has the same skills that led him to averaging a career-high 18.5 points per game his junior season when Duke played Army in 2000.
Spatola scored just four points that game, a 91-48 win for Duke, but on the scouting report—the real one—Krzyzewski scribbled in pen a single word below the paragraph on Spatola: “Awareness.”
“Chris is very smart. He loves the game, he’s a great speaker, good on his feet, and he can develop unbelievable relationships,” Krzyzewski said. “He went to an amazing school, and he served our country. You’re talking about one of the elite guys in our whole country.”