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Milestones and memories

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has reached the next milestone approximately every four seasons during his 35-year career at Duke.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has reached the next milestone approximately every four seasons during his 35-year career at Duke.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski began the 2014-15 season well within reach of his 1,000th win, and its arrival Sunday at Madison Square Garden flooded every social media outlet with #1K celebrations.

The milestones in Coach K’s career are inextricably linked to the accomplishments of the Duke basketball program. In 1989, had the 42-year-old coach accepted the Boston Celtics’ offer to coach in the NBA, the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium would undoubtedly be short a handful of banners. But just as the accolades of the Duke program—national championship titles, ACC tournament crowns—would be lacking, so would Krzyzewski's win total, had he transitioned to a professional organization so early in his career.

Luckily, we don’t have to play the what-if game with Krzyzewski because he turned down the Celtics’ offer and every NBA opening that followed. Although other Division I coaches might wonder what their careers would look like if they had stayed put, Coach K can see his success any time he looks back at the history of Duke basketball.

It’s easy to find record of Coach K’s 1,000th win, his 903rd, even his 500th. But I want to start closer to the beginning—when people still fought over how to pronounce this new head coach’s name—with a milestone as simple as win No. 100.

In a 1981-82 season that would leave Duke tied for sixth in the ACC and on the losing side of both matchups with North Carolina, Krzyzewski reached 100 wins in a triple-overtime bout against Clemson at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won by just one point, 73-72, giving the new head coach his 100th victory after just two seasons at Duke.

Four years later, win No. 200 came when an unranked Blue Devil squad upset No. 18 Alabama on the road. That 1986-87 squad was led by Danny Ferry, whose No. 35 jersey now hangs in the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Ferry helped the program to 117 total wins during his four years in Durham but graduated before he could help Coach K reach 300.

On March 16, 1990, Krzyzewski became Duke’s winningest coach with 227 victories on the Blue Devil sideline after routing Richmond 81-46 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In addition to advancing Duke to the second round, the victory also marked the 300th of his career. Now at the rate of 20 wins per season since his first win with Army in 1975, the still-young coach would have to pick up the pace to reach 1,000 in 2015.

Krzyzewski edged out his 400th win Dec. 22, 1993, when then-No. 3 Duke barely defeated Iowa 79-76 after dominating the season’s earlier opponents by at least 10 points per game. Four seasons later—in a memorable moment for Duke fans everywhere—Steve Wojciechowski raced across the court to embrace his head coach after defeating North Carolina 77-75, claiming the ACC regular season title and giving Krzyzewski his 500th win.

By this point, Coach K had established himself as one of the most impressive active coaches of his era. His 600th career win—which came four months after his 500th as Duke head coach—arrived with a successful trip to the 2001 ACC tournament final, where the Blue Devils took down the Tar Heels 79-53.

Jumping ahead four years, Krzyzewski’s 700th win marked one of the first comparisons between his career and that of Bob Knight, who was the only coach to reach 700 wins faster than his former player. Coach K continued to chase his old Army coach, arriving at 800 wins—the sixth coach in men's Division I history to do so—with a victory against N.C. State 87-86 March 1, 2008.

After 12 ACC regular season titles, 13 ACC tournament titles and four NCAA titles, Krzyzewski surpassed his former coach and trusted mentor when his team defeated Michigan State Nov. 15, 2011 at Madison Square Garden. Knight called the game for ESPN, Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry combined for 46 points and Krzyzewski entered the record books—at 903 games won—as the all-time winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history.

It’s not too hard to believe that the man who claimed 903 wins four years ago now holds the first four-digit win total of anyone to coach the sport. Harder to believe is that the young man who arrived at the school in 1980 with five years of experience to his name would continue to grow the Blue Devil program into a perennial title contender that has recorded decades of historic success.

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