Duke's Mike Krzyzewski adapts, wins fifth national title with Blue Devils
Coach K rode four freshmen to his fifth title as the Blue Devils defeated Wisconsin 68-63 in the NCAA title game on Monday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The big white bus with the large Duke logo left Lucas Oil Stadium about two hours after the final buzzer of this college basketball season had buzzed late Monday, then headed north on Illinois Street and took a right on Ohio Street, at which point more than a thousand fans waiting in front of the Blue Devils' downtown hotel saw the flashing lights of a police escort and started cheering.
Let's go Duke!
Let's go Duke!
Let's go Duke!
The freshly crowed national champions were finally pulling in.
It was 1:44 a.m.
Managers and other mostly anonymous figures exited the bus first. They smiled, waved and received polite applause. Next came some players, most notably the third Plumlee brother to win a national title. And then Justise Winslow, one of Duke's three -- no, make that four -- star freshmen put his two feet on the ground, and the crowd erupted because he was, right there in the middle of the street, holding a trophy representing greatness.
Winslow was holding a championship trophy.
And isn't it all a little wild?
Fans spent much of this season wondering if Kentucky could win a title while relying so heavily on young players. Turns out, the Wildcats could not. Or, at least, they did not.
But Duke did.
The Blue Devils overcame foul trouble in the first half and a nine-point deficit in the second to beat Wisconsin 68-63, and that they did it with freshmen scoring 60 of those 68 is the most compelling piece of evidence suggesting that you can teach an old K new tricks.
"We have eight guys -- and four of them are freshmen," said Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's Hall of Fame coach. "For them to win 35 games -- and win the national title -- is incredible."
Also incredible: Coach K's role in all of it.
He knowingly and willingly enrolled three likely one-and-done players, meshed them beautifully with a small handful of upperclassmen and led them to a national championship. It was the players' first and Krzyzewski's fifth, meaning this 68-year-old icon has ...
- A) won more national titles than everybody other than John Wooden
- B) won national championships in three different decades.
- C) won a title with three freshman starters.
The only other coach to win a national title with three freshman starters is Kentucky's John Calipari, who did it in 2012 with a core of Marquise Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. Calipari, frankly, developed the so-called blueprint for this era of college basketball. But, at some point, Krzyzewski got his hands on it, and the byproduct had him standing on a ladder and cutting nets on the first Monday in April for the fifth time.
"It doesn't feel real right now, to be honest," said Grayson Allen, Duke's fourth freshman star who finished with 16 points and two rebounds in 21 minutes against Wisconsin. "This group has talked about this moment since the beginning of the year. But saying it and actually getting it done are two different things. It's been a tough road. But to be here and to be able to do it with this group of guys is amazing."
And at what point does Krzyzewski become accepted as the best to ever do it?
No, he'll never have as many championships as Wooden, mostly because building what UCLA built in the 1960s simply isn't possible, for a variety of reasons, in this sport anymore. But Krzyzewski does have more championships than everybody but Wooden, and he's won those championships at different times with different players and different styles.
To this point, understand that Quinn Cook grew up watching Coach K win titles.
Now Quinn Cook is somebody who won a title with Coach K.
"It's surreal," Cook acknowledged. "To have his arm around me and hugging me while we're watching One Shining Moment was probably the best feeling in my life. ... I'm just blessed. I'm just blessed that Coach thought I was good enough to come to Duke."
A few hours after Cook delivered that quote, he exited that big white bus with the large Duke logo, shook hands with fans outside of the Sheraton, then entered the hotel and celebrated with his teammates deep into the night. The Duke party was downstairs. Upstairs, in the lobby, a replay of the game just won was being shown on a big screen, and a few dozen Duke fans hovered around the TV and watched what they'd already watched.
It was 2:14 a.m.
A thunderstorm was moving into the city, a college basketball season was being ushered out of this country. A man in a Duke hat glanced at the television in passing, tapped his daughter on the shoulder, pointed at the screen and smiled.
"Have you seen this game before?" he asked her.
She smiled back.
"You want to watch it again?" he said. "I bet we win. We should watch it again."
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