All eyes are on Duke men’s basketball this season, but that shouldn’t mean there’s more pressure.
Winning a national championship is the goal every season, but as we turn the page on the Coach K era, this season is about more than what the Blue Devils accomplish. There’s over 40 years of history to reminisce, so let’s take some of the weight off Duke’s shoulders and enjoy the ride.
Ever since head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced in June that this season would be his last, the Blue Devils have been the center of the college basketball world’s attention. Everyone wants to watch arguably the greatest college basketball coach ever take his last lap, and with more eyes comes more pressure to perform.
It makes sense. Every season at a premier program like Duke carries some degree of pressure to bring home a championship, but this season in particular, the Blue Devils welcome one of their most talented and athletic lineups in recent memory. Between the prowess of freshmen like Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin, and the dominant emergence of returners like Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr., the college basketball world has turned its head toward Durham, thinking, "These guys have a chance to win it all." Especially as the team looks to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish—Duke missed the tournament for the first time in 26 years—the time seems ripe for the Blue Devils to raise their first banner since 2015.
Now, throw in the fact that it’s Krzyzewski’s final season, and the pressure is on.
Everyone wants Krzyzewski to get a fairytale ending, riding off into the sunset with a sixth NCAA championship ring to cap off a 46-year head coaching career. What better way is there to say goodbye to a beloved coach than cutting down the nets?
Objectively, the Blue Devils are likely feeling the weight of this season more strongly than in the past, and that’s a result of the soaring expectations and narratives around this season.
But maybe fans should take a step back. Yes, this roster is stacked. Yes, they’ll look to make a comeback. Yes, Duke faithful want to send Coach K off in a blaze of NCAA tournament glory. But should this season really be about what’s on the scoreboard? I don’t think so.
First of all, it’s not Krzyzewski’s last year. Well, at least according to him it’s not.
Krzyzewski has emphasized all throughout the early parts of this season that he isn’t thinking of this as his last year. Instead, he’s focused on living in the moment. And he has good reason to.
The concept of a last season implies a sense of urgency and a sense of unfinished-ness: last season, last chance. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for Krzyzewski.
He has five national championship rings, second-most by a men’s college basketball coach, is tied for the most Final Four appearances and owns the most wins in college basketball history. Beyond Duke, he has three Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Championship gold medals as head coach of the USA men’s national basketball team. If ever there was a legacy truly set in stone, it’s Coach K’s.
Duke could finish this year at the very bottom of the NCAA and Krzyzewski would still go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest to ever coach a game of basketball. That won’t happen, but my point still stands. With so much amazing history to look back on, why be so focused on what’s at the end of the road?
It’s Krzyzewski’s final season with the Blue Devils, yes, but everyone already knows what his teams can accomplish on the court. This last dance with Coach K is a sentimental affair, though, and now more than ever, Blue Devil faithful should cherish the little moments. Krzyzewski’s last game against fellow Basketball Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, his last home opener, his last Tobacco Road Rivalry game. Beyond the moments, cherish the lessons he’s taught the entire Duke and basketball community, his contributions to the city of Durham and the impact he’s had on countless young men in his 46 years coaching basketball.
As for the players, the weight of this season shouldn’t be on their shoulders.
Krzyzewski’s legacy is not just a list of accomplishments but one of an exemplary teacher and leader. Maybe there are more eyes, but with Krzyzewski at the helm to guide them through, players should feel comfortable and even excited by the attention, not stifled by excess pressure.
According to his grandson and junior guard Michael Savarino, “[Krzyzewski’s] focus for this year is second to none. And I haven't seen him like this since I was in the stands really.”
With a locked-in Krzyzewski focused on living each moment, the Blue Devils should have the freedom to enjoy the season and take each opportunity as it comes. Whether those opportunities manifest in a deep tournament run or even a championship remains to be seen, but Duke, cool, calm and collected led by Krzyzewski, should let the doors open if they open, not bang on them till they’re knocked down.
So, while all eyes are watching the Blue Devils this year, let’s not watch for the end result any more than usual. Let’s instead watch and savor every moment of the final chapter in Coach K’s saga to say goodbye to a beloved member of the Duke community and appreciate 46 years of greatness.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.