"Michael, always be with good people."
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski's mother told him those six words while he was in high school, and 1,170 wins and five national titles later, he's still following her advice.
Yet, neither of those accomplishments are what Krzyzewski is most proud of.
In Krzyzewski’s Thursday afternoon press conference in Cameron Indoor Stadium, he addressed a room packed with friends, family, media and current members of this year’s team. Front and center in that room were the same people that have been front and center throughout his entire career: his family.
“Well the thing I’m most proud of is right there—what a family,” Krzyzewski said, pointing toward his family in the front row.
Krzyzewski touched on many topics throughout the press conference, including the fact that a big reason for his retirement is to spend more of his time with his family instead of spending it on the endless hours of preparation required to coach college basketball.
"I always felt that you would know when to stop if you weren't ready to do all the things necessary to do what you do," Krzyzewski said. "You have to do a lot of things before you do what you do—never been a question. I'm older, and we've both felt that I'm not sure I'm ready to prepare.... I want to use some of the things that I have to prepare for, that time, with [my family]."
That being said, the Hall of Famer made it clear that he has plenty left in the tank to finish this last season and he will be fully invested in his squad.
“I’m not gonna be anticipatory about any events or anything like that. I want to coach my team. I want to give them 100%," Krzyzewski said. "Because of [my retirement after next season], I won’t be on the road recruiting like I would normally so I can spend even more time with them. I want this to be as good a basketball team as we’ve had in my 46 years and that’s the main thing I’m gonna focus on.”
Throughout the press conference, it ironically became evident that the same reason that Krzyzewski cited as to why it was time for him to retire from coaching was the same reason that he has had continued success for the last 40-plus years atop the college basketball world: family.
Bonds. Connections. Relationships. Whatever you want to call it, they’ve been the cornerstone of the coaching philosophy that Krzyzewski has staked his career on.
“We don’t live our lives through our grandkids or our daughters and their husbands, but we’re part of their lives. How lucky are we that we’re also able to do that with Jon [Scheyer] and Chris [Carrawell] and Nolan [Smith] and Nate [James] and Wojo [Steve Wojciechowski] and Shane [Battier] and Grant [Hill] and Jason [Williams] and all—what a life,” Krzyzewski said.
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“So you have this going all the time and that’s where these guys have come up with The Brotherhood. And that's an extension really of what we’ve done as a family, so that’s what I’m most proud of and that’ll last well beyond next season. That’ll last forever for me and for Mickie and that’s the coolest thing.”
Even as Krzyzewski has gotten into the waning years of his career, the impact on his players has continued to be bigger than just basketball.
“He’s really teaching me new things with every word he says and really for me just being able to be a sponge and soak it all in,” junior Wendell Moore Jr. said. “I really wouldn’t want to learn from anybody else besides him.”
While Krzyzewski has instilled a sense of Brotherhood and family into the Duke men’s basketball program all the way through this last year, it really all began back in Chicago with what he calls his first opportunity.
“I’ve gotten some amazing opportunities. The very first opportunity. God was good. God was really good. He gave me my Mom and Dad. They were really good,” Krzyzewski said. “What an opportunity, and I’ve had so many opportunities. More than almost anybody I think. But that was a great opportunity to grow up in the Krzyzewski family."
That familial culture Krzyzewski has chosen to instill into the program in his 41 years is something that some, including athletic director Kevin White, value even more than the laundry list of accomplishments under Krzyzewski's name.
“Mike’s greatest gift, in my opinion, has been his unabashed love and utter commitment to his players,” White said.
So at a once-over of Krzyzewski’s storied career, it’d be easy to stop and only read the gaudy numbers on his resumé.
But when the legendary coach walks off the court for the last time, whenever that may be this next season, he won't just walk off into the distance with rings and wins, but will do so with his wife, three daughters, 10 grandkids and countless members of The Brotherhood by his side.
Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.