Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/15/11
DURHAM, N.C. -- When Mike Krzyzewski passes Bobby Knight in all-time victories, which could be as soon as Tuesday night against Michigan State, it should be a celebration of shared basketball theories and a relationship of mentor and pupil like no other as much as Krzyzewskis individual achievement. Krzyzewski played for Knight at West Point and was an assistant under him for a few years before getting his own program. Thirty-seven years later, Krzyzewski is about to notch victory No. 903, one more than Knights 902. Knights basketball theories are proven in the culture he created at Indiana, but also the one created by Krzyzewski at Duke. Some of the similarities stop there because the pupil certainly goes about his business in a vastly different manner. One can find a litany of embarrassing moments involving Knight, but not Krzyzewski. Thats never affected his reverence for the man who taught him the nuances of the game, introduced him to the motion offense, and inspired him to keep pushing forward, to achieve with honor, and run a clean program the right way. Krzyzewski had the fortuitous experience to serve as Knights point guard at West Point. Knight was demanding. So, naturally, Krzyzewski had a bit more pressure on him than his teammates. Not that I was the best player, but I was responsible for everything, Krzyzewski said. Thats why when I goofed that I spent my whole life trying not to let him get angry, it started right there. Look, lets just do this right, hes going to be happy. So I was on everybody just to do that. Krzyzewski hopes to get it right Tuesday against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. Both men want this to end. They are embarrassed by the attention its receiving, though Krzyzewski clearly enjoyed Tuesday recalling stories from his younger days learning from Knight. Knight gave him numerous opportunities to learn, serving in a multitude of manners. Krzyzewski was an assistant under Knight during the 1979 Pan American Games, and even during the 1984 Olympics, Krzyzewski served as the advance scout for the USA teams opponents and was in charge of preparing game film. Knight invited the young Krzyzewski to NCAA coaches meetings, and they worked a great deal of clinics together. All along, the pupil was soakingup as much as he could. And he eventually built a program that combined the qualities of what Knight taught him with his own personality and belief system. Playing for Knight wasnt for everyone, and playing for Krzyzewski isnt for everyone. Krzyzewski has been abrasive at times, and can chew out a player with the best of them. But theres a gentle touch to his way, as well. The reason I came to Duke is because I believed in Coach, I believed he could make me the best player I could become, said current Duke junior forward Ryan Kelly. He could make me into a man, and I think hes certainly lived up to that for me. And his track record, no doubt, says hes done that for others. Former Duke players from the past three decades are often scattered behind the teams bench at home games in venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium. They are part of the Duke family that bonds them together for life. Kelly feels a connection to those players. We have shared experiences, he said. They know coach in a way nobody else does, and we also know him in that way. It connects us. Knight was known for getting blood from a stone with certain players. Krzyzewski has gotten plenty of mileage from the Lee Melchionis and Marty Clarks, too. Duke players are regularly infused with confidence, because the more they believe in themselves, the more they can achieve. He gives his players freedom, and that shows confidence in them, said current Blue Devils junior guard Seth Curry. He constantly reminds you of your strengths and how you can help the team win. We work on weaknesses, but always do some from a positive position and mindset. That approach has been amazingly successful. Krzyzewski is 902-284 in career that began at Army and has spanned the last 32 seasons at Duke, where he has won 828 games. Krzyzewski also has 79 NCAA Tournament victories, the most all-time, 11 Final Fours and four national championships. His first few years at Duke lent no reason to suspect hed reach many significant milestones. He replaced Bill Foster in the spring of 1980. Krzyzewski inherited a few players from the 1978 Blue Devils that lost to Kentucky in the national championship game. But Duke went just 17-13 in Krzyzewskis first season. It followed that up with 10-17 and 11-17 marks, giving doubters ammunition. But athletic director Tom Butters stayed with the man he hired from West Point, and it paid off. An ACC Tournament semifinal win over Michael Jordan and North Carolina in 1984 was the first signature victory for Krzyzewski, and two seasons later, the Devils finished 37-3, but lost to Louisville in the national title game. That NCAA run began a stretch where Duke reached the Final Four seven times in nine seasons, a run that included back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992. Among the victories in that stretch was the real program-changer, beating UNLV in the 1991 Final Four. UNLV beat Duke 103-73 in the 1990 NCAA title game and the Devils wanted revenge. They got it in a big way, beating the Rebels and knocking off Kansas for the national championship two nights later. The year before, Vegas trashed them, and it was embarrassing, Former Duke coach and longtime analyst Bucky Waters said. They come back the next year, and I remember the Vegas guys coming in with their headsets on and when he took that game; I dont know why it was so significant, but it was to me. Then the back-to-back. Krzyzewski has experienced mostly success since. The bad back and leaving the team during the 1994-95 season, in which the Blue Devils finished 13-18, and then petitioning to the NCAA to have the games he didnt coach during that season removed from his personal record brought tremendous criticism. And on a few occasions during the 2000s, the Hall of Fame coach and his program faced extensive ridicule for their perceived arrogance, putting a target on their collective backs as the most disliked program in the nation. But Krzyzewski has softened and has become more congenial in recent years. One of his greatest attributes has been his ability to constantly change with the times. His offensive approach is altered based on available personnel. No two Duke teams look exactly alike. That will never change. Constantly evolving means the program is always self-evaluating and finding new ways to succeed. Its a trait Krzyzewski learned in those early years with losing records at Army and in his second and third seasons at Duke. I try to still coach that way, even though weve lived in a penthouse, he said. Weve lived with a few other programs that are recognized as elite programs. It hasnt always been that way. And I think the reason weve won is because I had those eight years. Michigan State is Tuesday nights obstacle. The coach knows whats at stake, which is why hes not thinking about No. 903. Hes thinking about the Spartans No. 23. For me, Im trying to figure out how to guard (Michigan State forward Draymond) Green and keep them off the boards, Krzyzewski said. I try not to think about those things (milestones). Krzyzewski will enjoy the moment when it happens, and Knight will be there, too. But the man known as Coach K says personal accomplishments are for looking back on once a career has concluded. And according to the 64-year-old coach, that likely wont be for a while, and thats a good thing for college basketball and sports fans in general.
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