PITTSBURGH—Christian Laettner’s shot in Philadelphia. Every tournament game with Mike Krzyzewski at the helm. A Final Four shocker vs. UNLV.
You can bet David Hay was there for all of it, clad in Duke blue and with a huge grin. Just watching the Blue Devils warm up Saturday, his eyes glowed, especially when he talked about the team.
The 1971 Duke graduate and former cheerleader started going to games his freshman year, 13 years before Krzyzewski became the Blue Devil head coach, and hasn’t stopped since. Even as a practicing attorney, he drives six hours from Hilton Head, S.C., to Durham for nearly every home ACC game.
After getting hooked on Duke basketball as a freshman watching a triple-overtime win against North Carolina, Hay has seen it all.
But it wasn’t always sunshine and roses for Krzyzewski, who went just 38-47 in his first three seasons in Durham. It wasn’t clear that he would win any more games after that.
“People wanted him run out of town,” Hay said.
Now, Hay can add another feather to his cap: seeing Krzyzewski pass Tennessee legend Pat Summitt for the most wins of all time—men’s or women’s. Saturday's against Rhode Island was the 1,099th time Krzyzewski has left a building victorious, as well the second major milestone for Krzyzewski this season after he won game No. 1,000 as Duke’s head coach Utah Valley in November, becoming the first men’s coach to accomplish that at one school.
Saturday’s feat, however, came with much less pomp and circumstance than before. Krzyzewski said he didn’t even know he had tied Summitt’s mark with a win Thursday against Iona. He added that Summitt, who coached the Volunteers until the end of the 2011-12 season, was a close friend and would have won hundreds of more games if she wasn’t forced to retire due to early onset dementia. Summitt died from the disease in 2016.
Krzyzewski expressed gratitude for the great players he has had and that he is in good health, in spite of the new body parts he has after two knee and hip replacements.
"It's an honor because she was a pioneer in her sport. Her sport, women's college basketball, took off because of her," Krzyzewski said. "Her ability to understand that there needed to be another program, and what Geno [Auriemma] established at Connecticut was helped by Pat, because Pat played the games that gave the exposure. And it became then the two of them, and it would still be the two of them if she was alive because she wasn't giving anything up to him. It's an honor."
Auriemma became the fastest coach to reach 1,000 wins in NCAA history in December, and at 63, still could have many years coaching ahead of him.
‘Calm as a cucumber’
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How has Krzyzewski gotten to this point? He has been able to consistently recruit elite prospects, but also knows how to develop them and handle the moment, regardless of the outcome.
After Boston College, which had won three ACC games the past three years, shocked his Blue Devils in December, Krzyzewski didn’t lash out. He didn’t complain. And he gave all the credit to the Eagles.
“We got beat by a team that played great basketball, and we accept responsibility for that,” Krzyzewski said that Saturday.
That collected calm is what Hay has seen consistently from Krzyzewski throughout the decades.
“The thing impresses me the most is when we lose, I lose it,” Hay said. “But he is calm as a cucumber and always congratulates the other team. I’m impressed with his grace and composure under pressure.”
In that vein, Krzyzewski expressed admiration for Virginia head coach Tony Bennett’s reaction to his team’s historic loss to UMBC—the first time ever a No. 1 seed has fallen to a No. 16 seed.
Krzyzewski thrives on adaptation
Krzyzewski has also been consistently exceptional in his ability to adapt. Saturday’s win against the Rams was no different.
Looking flat early, the Blue Devils couldn’t get anything going on offense. Krzyzewski was forced to take a timeout midway through the half, and Duke immediately went on a 23-5 run coming out of the huddle to explode past the hornless Rams.
Krzyzewski didn’t think it was anything he said that sparked the run, but that briefly benching Trevon Duval allowed him to reset and return to being the force he was Thursday against Iona. And playing his zone well didn’t hurt either.
The fact that Duke is even running a zone is surprising. Usually, it’s a sign of weakness in man-to-man. But for the Blue Devils, it’s arguably become their biggest weapon.
Krzyzewski had experimented with both a man-to-man defense and a 2-3 for much of the year, and neither was working at all. In February, Duke had to stare down a loss against lowly St. John’s in which it gave up 81 points. A few days later, Marvin Bagley III stared at his lap in a Chapel Hill locker room with a towel over his head after the Tar Heels more than 80 on Duke’s defense once again.
But since the Blue Devils have made the switch to a zone full-time, their once-laughingstock of a defense has become an elite force. In their final nine games before the NCAA tournament, Duke’s defense was the unit in the nation, and climbed all the way to the No. 7 in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings.
“Nobody thought we would be playing zone this year, but he figured out that was best for us,” senior captain Grayson Allen said. “That’s what makes him good—he adjusts to what he has.”
He has also been able to adapt to a number of different teams and how the game of basketball has changed over the years. One-and-dones? He’s the rule that requires high schoolers to play one year in college or internationally before going to the NBA.
But that hasn’t stopped him from living with the one-and-done reality and using it to his benefit. Duke has seen eight of its freshmen leave after one year since 2014, and could see as many as four more go one-and-done this year.
And Krzyzewski has rolled with that tide, winning a championship behind three one-and-done stars in 2015, and has been ranked in the top five in all of those years. Allen has been a part of all four of those teams, and each has looked completely different due to the annual influx and outflux of NBA-bound faces.
“We’ve played differently every year I’ve been here. He [Krzyzewski] really adjusts to the team that he has, our strengths and our weaknesses,” Allen said. “My freshman year, having an incredible inside presence in Jah [Okafor], and having two this year with Wendell [Carter Jr.] and Marvin. The two years before that, really having the strength in four guards...getting a lot of drive-and-kick basketball, and then the different defenses too.”
Allen also credits Krzyzewski for molding him into the leader he is today, helping boost his confidence in driving the ball and passing and playmaking abilities.
For as confident and fiery as he seems on the floor, Allen said he hasn’t always been confident off it. He would read too much meaning into what others said, he explained. But now, he has reached a point where he doesn’t care.
“He really had an impact on me as a leader and being vocal, not only on the basketball court, but outside too,” Allen said. “He turned me into a guy who is secure in who you are and confident in who you are in your leadership.”
This sense of camaraderie has seemed to seep into the rest of his family—biological and basketballogical.
Hay said he has gotten to know Krzyzewski’s wife, Mickie, over the years from attending so many games. One time, he remembers, he headed to the 1991 NCAA regionals in Detroit. After picking up his daughter from the University of Michigan, they almost missed the game because of the brutal traffic in the Motor City.
But after the game, Mickie told Hay to come on back and meet the players, he says. Hay said he went back into the bowels of the arena and got autographs from the Blue Devils.
This sort of tight-knit, family vibe seems to exist amongst Duke players, past and present, who have played under Krzyzewski.
“[Family] is something that’s been nurtured over the past 30-plus years since Coach K has been here. I have become good friends with guys who played 20 years after me,” ex-Duke player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas . “You feel a part of something years after you wore the uniform. You know that when the phone rings and there’s a player on the other end, you’re there to help. We’re there for each other.”
"Duke stood out because the brotherhood represents a family, and Coach K is the most legendary coach that ever coached college basketball," Williamson on SportsCenter after his announcement. "Going to Duke University, I can learn a lot from him."
Former five-star recruit and current freshman Gary Trent Jr. added that he has been able to learn a lot from trying to see things through Krzyzewski’s lens, one of the reasons the 71-year-old head coach continues to land several McDonald's All-Americans every year.
“The way he sees things separates him,” freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. said. “Throughout everything he explains, you’ll be like, 'Oh man, I didn’t even know that was there.' And in some magical way, he sees it.”
Krzyzewski sees it all. How to fine-tune his defense. How to bring people together. How to win more than anyone ever has.
As he has so often, Hay can once again make the journey to Hilton Head with a smile. This time, maybe a bit wider.