DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Most college basketball teams end their season with a loss. It’s a bummer for sure but if you’re in a conference tournament or the big dance at least you go out fighting on the court.
Last year Duke didn’t even get that. The Blue Devils needed a good showing in last year’s ACC tournament to make the NCAA’s. They took down Boston College then obliterated Louisville. It looked like they would win it all in Greensboro. Fans were positive, unfortunately so was the COVID test of a Duke team member. Contact tracing forced the team to withdraw. The Blue Devils 13-11 record wasn’t enough to make the NCAA’s so that was it. Duke went home and started getting ready for this season.
“Compared to last year, we’re so far ahead of what we’ve been able to put in and the relationships we’ve developed with the guys,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “I love the work ethic of the team, the athleticism, the talent, the comradery – it’s all good. These kids have been great to work with and we’re excited about the whole season.”
One of the reasons he’s been able to work with the players more is due to his absence on the recruiting trail. In previous years he was flying around the country to events big and small making sure the cupboards were stocked with talent for next year. With Krzyzewski retiring at the end of the year head coach in waiting Jon Scheyer has taken over the recruiting role leaving K to do more with his returning players.
“It’s been great for me and I think that’s what I like most about coaching is developing relationships with the guys. As enjoyable as it is to watch an AAU tournament on Sunday afternoon somewhere in the United States, I would prefer to be on the court with my guys,” said Krzyzewski. “That’s part of the plan that we’ve had is for my guys to hit the road like crazy and I would take care of stuff here.”
Never a bad thing when you can spend more time with Coach Krzyzewski to get yourself ready for his last season. Wait, strike that. Instead of last use the word next or upcoming but do not use the word last to describe this season when talking with the coach.
“I told my staff and everyone around me not to use the word ‘last.’ This is my 47th year (coaching), my 42nd year at Duke and I’m going after it the same way I’ve gone after every year,” said Krzyzewski. “As soon as you start saying savor or let’s remember this thing or whatever you open up the door for rationalization of not putting it all out.”
Sounds crazy but Krzyzewski is trying to create the mindset of being in the moment. He feels it’s been crucial to his success and doesn’t want anything interfering with that formula. Not even his own retirement.
“We’ve made a mark on college basketball in the last four decades,” said Krzyzewski. “I’d like to make another mark before I leave in this decade.”
Duke’s first exhibition game is set for Oct. 30 against Winston-Salem State inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.