“Krzyzewskiville.” That’s the name give to the annually constructed waiting line that appears prior to Duke University Blue Devil home basketball games. Once per year (before the school’s game against arch rival, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels) the school allows for “tenting” meaning that up to a week before the game students will occupy up to 100 tents (the maximum capacity allowed) in order to get tickets. Each tent can hold up to twelve students. Students must have at least 1 person per tent during periodic checks and some tents, even after students have waited the entire period to get tickets, not everybody is guaranteed a seat in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After reading this paragraph, the nickname given to the university’s basketball fans “Cameron Crazies” makes sense.
All of this madness at one of America’s top universities can be attributed to one man: Mike Krzyzewski, the man who turned a mediocre program into the personification of college basketball.
Krzyzewski was Born February 13, 1947 in Chicago Ill. The son of Polish immigrants Bill and Emily Krzyzewski was a star athlete and was known as a leader and organizer among his friends. Krzyzewski was a standout basketball player leading the Chicago Catholic League in scoring. He wanted to go to the University of Nebraska or Creighton University. However he was offered a full ride to the United States Military Academy at West Point. After saying “no thank you” and enduring a week of reprimand from his parents (where they called him “stupid Mike”) he changed his mind. Krzyzewski explained his decision in an interview with Esquire Magazine. “When you have one parent who never went to high school,” he said, “and another who never finished high school, they looked at West Point as an opportunity for their son to do something that only the rich and privileged got to do. I could have let me down, but I couldn’t let them down,” he said.
While playing at West Point, Krzyzewski would get first class coaching, courtesy of legendary hall of fame coach Bob Knight. Playing as a guard on the Army team, Krzyzewski would captain the team to the NIT tournament in his senior year.
After graduating from West Point, Krzyzewski served in the Military as an Army Officer (resigning holding the rank of Captain), from 1969-1974. One of Krzyzewski’s duties was to coach service basketball teams. During this time he met his wife Mickie, who was a introduced through a friend. They would marry in June of 1969, upon Krzyzewski’s graduation from West Point, and would eventually have three daughters.
After returning from Korea, Krzyzewski took a job at his alma mater, as the assistant coach at West Point, serving under his former coach Knight. In 1971 Knight left Army to coach at the University of Indiana, Krzyzewski filled the post in 1975, after serving as Knights assistant at Indiana for a season, and would lead the Army Black Knights to the first round of the NIT tournament in 1979.
Krzyzewski then accepted the job at Duke in 1980. At his first Press conference he gave reporters the correct spelling and pronunciation of his name. They wouldn’t have any trouble writing it now.
Krzyzewski first five seasons at Duke were largely unexciting. The team produced 3post season tournament appearance never getting past the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, this would be the beginning of a streak that saw the Blue Devils reach the NCAA tournament for eleven straight seasons (1984-94). Also during this time period Krzyzewski would lead his team to back-to-back championships. The most memorable game during the two-championship seasons would be the 1992 East Regional Final against the University of Kentucky. The game was made memorable by the buzzer beating inbound pass and shot by Grant Hill and Christian Laettner to beat the Wildcats 104-103 in overtime.
What is thought of as Krzyzewski’s worst season at Duke was the 1995 campaign. During the season Krzyzewski suffered debilitating back injuries. During this season Duke went 13-18 and missed postseason play. Much criticism was directed at Krzyzewski as well, for leaving his team midway through the season.
In the summer of 2008 Krzyzewski had a chance to serve his nation again. This time as the head coach of team USA. After playing preliminary games for troops stationed in Korea, the team, nicknamed the “Redeem Team,” vowed to return the USA back to the gold medal after a disappointing finish in Athens four years earlier, stormed through the tournament. With players like Lebron James and Dwayne Wade leading the way, the USA beat Spain for the gold medal on August 24th 2008. Krzyzewski has mentioned in interviews that this was one of the proudest moments of his life. Krzyzewski is currently under contract to coach the team again at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Aside from the gold medal, Krzyzewski has also won 3 national championships, over 800 games, 10 coach of the year awards and has also been bestowed the ultimate honor at Duke: the basketball court at Cameron Indoor has been named “Coach K Court.”
Krzyzewski has been linked to head coaching vacancies before. The most high profile and what seemed most likely was speculation-linking Krzyzewski to the Los Angeles Lakers, prior to the hiring of Phil Jackson in 2004. The offer was reported at 5 years for $40 million dollars, as well as the priceless opportunity to coach NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. After what seemed like an eternity to Duke fans Krzyzewski turned down the offer saying that it was “tempting” but his heart belonged to Duke. He reaffirmed this by saying “I will never leave Duke until I leave coaching” in a Yahoo! Sports interview. Currently there are rumors that Krzyzewski will be offered the Head Coaching position with the New Jersey Nets at the end of this season.
Krzyzewski approach to recruiting is different then most coaches. In a time where the best talent only go to College for a year Krzyzewski has chosen to pursue players instead that would play for him their entire collegiate career. This philosophy has allowed Krzyzewski to build solid teams, yet miss out on incredible athletes like this year’s NCAA Freshman Player of the Year John Wall. Even without Wall, Krzyzewski has coached other players that would go on to long careers in both the NBA and Europe. These players include Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.
This coming season, the Cameron Crazies will be camped out in tents. Luckily, aside from coaching the Blue Devils krzyzewski is known for buying pizza for the students. It’s good to be the boss.