By Jonah Sharf
Longtime Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been a part of the coaching staff for many legendary teams, whether it’s as an assistant coach for the 1992 USA Basketball “Dream Team,” head coach of the 2012 USA Basketball Olympic team, or the head coach of many amazing Duke teams including five national championship teams.
There are many factors that go into assembling a winning basketball team, and Coach Krzyzewski has applied many of these methods throughout his career(needs to be rephrased – not sure what you’re trying to say here).
(This is multiple things -needs to be rephrased) Coach K believes the keys to a successful locker room aren’t only amazing, talented players—the culture and environment that those great players create is vital as well. Michael Jordan with the Dream Team, for example created this type of culture.
“[MJ] went out of his way to interact and we became good friends,” Krzyzewski said. “It really showed his mastery not just of the game, but of the environment that he was supposed to create. The great player should help create his environment, not just allow other people to do it…and Michael did that.”
Players like Jordan and Kobe Bryant were not only some of the best players to ever put on the uniform, but they also helped to create well-rounded USA teams known as much for their mentality as their basketball skills. (rephrase this last sentence)
This is also the case at Duke, where Coach K has been head coach since 1980. In fact, one of the biggest parts of his recruitment process is looking at a player’s character.
“We look for three things and they’re all equal: talent—they have to be good, they have to be pretty good students because we have one of the best schools in the world, and they have to have good character,” Coach K said. “That guy was Grant Hill in the early 90s, that guy was [Shane] Battier in the late 90s, now it’s Jayson Tatum.”
Hill, Battier, and Tatum are known to be some of most well-adjusted and well-respected players in the NBA of their respective generations. As a coach, basketball strategy is just one of a wide variety of topics that Krzyzewski both teaches and preaches.
The players aren’t the only ones who contribute to a team’s character and development. Krzyzewski also commends the way Jerry Colangelo has run things as the director of USA Basketball since 2005—they have won three Olympic gold medals since he was appointed.
While Colangelo has picked and recruited some of the best players in the game, Coach K also credits the type of culture that he, in addition to the players, have created around the team ever since he has been in charge.
“Jerry Colangelo has done an amazing job for basketball in the world, but [also] for this country,” Krzyzewski said. “Our goal obviously is to win gold medals, but right along with it was to win the respect of our country and the world, and to do it in a way where people respected USA basketball, how we acted and how we played.”
In Krzyzewski’s eyes, the USA basketball team has done exactly that, earning the respect of the world’s basketball community not just through their play, but through their actions as well.
However, as much credit as he gives players and team executives like Colangelo, the environment that is created on a team and in the locker room has a lot to do with the coach that is leading them as well, and Coach K is one of the best culture-builders in basketball on the national and college level.
He has invested a lot in making sure that his players develop depth not just as athletes, but as students and people while they are at Duke. In addition, he has dedicated countless hours to figuring out how best to create a space where he can mentor and relate to his athletes, especially as someone who at this point is more than 50 years older than his players.
“Sometimes you have to do something different to connect with them better,” Krzyzewski said. “I goof with them, I know some music, I send them something in a text. Then they have to enter my world too, then all of a sudden can we find our world…to me that journey each year keeps you young, it keeps you in it.”
As much time as Coach Krzyzewski spends trying to create an environment and culture where every player can succeed and thrive during their time at Duke, he spends just as much time trying to maintain a relationship with his former players.
Duke and Coach K have hosted a fantasy camp every year over the last 16 years where former players from the 1980s until the 2000s can connect with one another and bond and so that Coach K himself can stay in their lives.
Even with this interest in staying in contact with former players and continuing to shape their lives decades after they’ve graduated, Krzyzewski also knows how important it is to not dwell in the past. He has had many successful teams and is one of the best college basketball coaches of all time but he makes sure to focus on what is in the future for him and for Duke.
“My car in life does not have a rearview mirror,” Krzyzewski said. “I might park my car and celebrate the past, but when I’m driving—and I’m usually driving—I’m not looking at what we’ve done, I’m looking at what we’re going to do.”