He arrived at Duke in 1980 so unknown that he had to explain how to pronounce his name.
Forty-two years later, he retires as a coaching icon known around the world by a single letter.
Mike Krzyzewski has won nearly 1,200 games and captured five national titles. Those accomplishments alone did not transform the Chicago-born son of Polish immigrants into the face of college basketball. With Krzyzewski approaching the end of his 42nd season at Duke, here are 42 moments that shape his legacy, from historic wins, to humanizing interactions, to defiance in the face of controversy.
1. 'This is not a typo'
On March 18, 1980, Duke introduced a new men's basketball coach who had just gone 9-17 in his fifth season at Army. The Raleigh-Durham market was so unfamiliar with Krzyzewski at that time that the local media famously had him spell out his last name from the lectern.
Though Duke athletic director Tom Butters boldly called Krzyzewski “the most brilliant young basketball coach in the country,” the surprise hire faced skepticism that he could hold his own against the likes of Dean Smith and Jim Valvano. The Duke student newspaper summed it up best the morning after Krzyzewski’s hiring, running a headline that read "This is not a typo."
2. A foundational recruiting class
Having struck out in his pursuit of Chris Mullin, Bill Wennington and a handful of other premier prospects during his first recruiting cycle, Krzyzewski narrowed his focus in Year 2. He devoted all the program’s energy to persuading a select group of players to come to Durham and came away with a six-man class that is now remembered as the most important of his decorated career.
Johnny Dawkins was the headliner, a dynamic guard who left Duke as its all-time leading scorer. Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas each became productive four-year players as well.
"Once we got those kids, they were the foundation,” former Duke assistant Bobby Dwyer told Yahoo Sports in 2015. “They weren't just great players. They were great people. They had all the intangibles you could want."
3. 'Here’s to never forgetting tonight'
The Dawkins class may have spearheaded Duke’s return to prominence, but it didn’t happen right away. The Blue Devils lost 17 games during their freshman year, the embarrassment of a 3-11 record in ACC play only trumped by the humiliation of a 109-66 mauling against Ralph Sampson-led Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals.
Hours after suffering what still stands as the most one-sided loss in Duke history, Krzyzewski and a few Duke staffers went out for a late-night meal at a nearby Denny's.
Johnny Moore, Duke's sports information director at the time, tried to lighten the mood by raising his glass of water and saying, "Here's to forgetting tonight." Krzyzewski then raised his own glass and famously answered, "Here's to never forgetting tonight."
4. Krzyzewski under siege
“Durham,” Jay Bilas once told Yahoo Sports, “was not a pleasant place to be in 1983.”
One of Duke's Tobacco Road rivals had just completed a stunning championship run under beloved coach Jim Valvano. The other was at the apex of its power under legendary coach Dean Smith. The Blue Devils on the other hand had just concluded back-to-back 17-loss seasons under Krzyzewski culminating with the ACC tournament shellacking against Virginia.
A vocal segment of Duke’s fan base wanted Krzyzewski fired. Thankfully for the Blue Devils, their athletic director had more patience and foresight. Tom Butters called Krzyzewski into his office a few weeks into the 1983-84 season and awarded him a five-year contract extension to drive home the message that no change was imminent.
Said Dwyer in 2015: “Tom Butters deserves a lot of credit for the success Duke basketball has had the last 30 years."
5. The 'double standard' game
In January 1984, late in a hotly contested rivalry matchup, North Carolina’s Dean Smith grew irate that referees weren’t allowing one of his substitutions to enter the game. Smith banged his fist on the scorer’s table yet did not receive a technical foul.
After his team’s 78-73 loss, Duke’s fifth in a streak of six straight setbacks against the Tar Heels, Krzyzewski could no longer contain his frustration. He vented about an alleged “double standard” that existed in the ACC, one for Smith and one for everybody else.
Krzyzewski’s complaint angered the North Carolina coach and spawned a national controversy. It was a pivotal moment in the growth of the rivalry, along with the proliferation of TV games and Duke’s subsequent ascent to national prominence.
6. From 11-17 to the national title game
While the Dawkins class saved Krzyzewski’s job by propelling Duke to 24 wins in 1984 and 23 the following year, those Blue Devils teams did not taste any NCAA tournament success. That left top-seeded Duke hungry for more in 1986, even after winning its first ACC title in 20 years and entering the NCAA tournament with a sparkling 32-2 record.
After an opening-round scare against Mississippi Valley State, Duke stormed through the rest of the East Regional, outclassing Old Dominion, DePaul and David Robinson’s Navy team to make Krzyzewski’s first Final Four. There the Blue Devils survived a semifinal war against Kansas before falling 72-69 in the title game to precocious freshman Pervis Ellison and Louisville.
The title game loss still haunts Dawkins, Bilas and their classmates, but the 1986 team’s place in Duke lore is secure. This is the group that paved the way for decades of dominance to come.
7. The birth of Krzyzewskiville
Krzyzewskiville began with a game of quarters.
In March 1986, a group of tipsy Duke undergrads hatched a scheme to make sure they were first in line to get the best seats for the Blue Devils’ upcoming home game against North Carolina. Kimberly Reed and about 15 of her friends rented a handful of tents and set up camp in front of Cameron a couple days before the game.
“By the time they opened the doors at Cameron, a whole bunch of other people had set up tents or just sleeping bags behind us,” Reed told the Duke Chronicle in 2020.
A tradition was born, one that has endured for 36 years and counting. Weeks before the annual North Carolina game, the first tents will appear in the same spot that Reed and her friends once pitched theirs.
8. Mentor vs. Protege, part I
In advance of Indiana’s 1987 clash with Duke in a Midwest Regional semifinal, Bob Knight was asked about the significance of coaching against his former point guard. The Hoosiers coach offered Krzyzewski a quintessential Knight compliment, telling reporters, “They’re extremely well coached. I taught [him], they ought to be.”
In those days, Knight and Krzyzewski were more than cordial. They were close friends. Knight had advocated for Duke to hire Krzyzewski in 1980. The Indiana coach had shown his support for his former player and graduate assistant coach by wearing a Duke blue blazer adorned with a Duke button during the 1986 Final Four.
While Knight’s top-seeded Hoosiers edged Krzyzewski’s underdog Blue Devils 88-82 en route to claiming the 1987 national championship, the outcome wasn’t all bad for Duke. A 24-win season following the graduation of the Dawkins class demonstrated that Krzyzewski’s program was no one-hit wonder and set the stage for five straight Final Fours from 1988-92.
Check out this 3D immersive trophy room highlighting Coach K's accomplishments:
9. UNLV 103, Duke 73
Never before or since has the national championship game turned out to be a bigger mismatch. On April 2, 1990, Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels overwhelmed Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils with relentless defense and fast-break offense en route to a 103-73 blowout.
Afterward, a shellshocked Krzyzewski lavished praise on Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and the rest of UNLV’s star-studded roster. The Las Vegas Review Journal quoted Krzyzewski as saying, “We could have played them 20 times and not beaten them in any.”
10. Duke 79, UNLV 77
A year later, when Duke earned another crack at mighty UNLV in the national semifinals, Duke’s assistant coaches didn’t want to show the Blue Devils the tape of the previous year’s 30-point shellacking. Krzyzewski immediately overruled them because he wanted his players to see that many of their mistakes were of their own doing and that they could stay in striking distance if they cleaned those errors up.
The psychological ploy worked. Duke no longer viewed unbeaten UNLV as unbeatable.
Christian Laettner exploded for 28 points to help the Blue Devils halt the Runnin’ Rebels’ 45-game win streak and pull off a stunning upset. Two nights later, Duke brushed aside Kansas to capture the program’s first national title.
11. 'There’s the pass to Laettner … puts it up … yesss!!'
An all-time great college basketball game ended with maybe the most iconic highlight in NCAA tournament history. Only 2.1 seconds remained in overtime in the 1992 East Regional final when Grant Hill fired a 75-foot inbound pass to Christian Laettner. The Duke star dribbled once, turned and buried a fallaway jumper, giving the Blue Devils a thrilling 104-103 victory over Kentucky.
The shot propelled Duke to a sixth Final Four in seven years and capped an unfathomable night for Laettner. He scored 30 points on a perfect 10 of 10 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free-throw line.
12. Mentor vs. Protege, part II
Awaiting Duke in the 1992 national semifinals was Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers. It was a rematch of their 1987 NCAA tournament clash, only five years later the circumstances had changed.
In his new book about Krzyzewski, author Ian O’Connor explained that a Sports Illustrated story caught Knight’s attention prior to the game. The article included a paragraph stating that Krzyzewski badly wanted to eliminate the idea that he was merely a Knight disciple and had “taken every opportunity to outline their many differences.”
Knight interpreted that as Krzyzewski wanting to distance himself and his anger was apparent after Duke’s 81-78 victory. Krzyzewski stuck his hand out in the handshake line but there was no warm embrace or hearty congratulations. Knight offered only an icy-cold blow-by handshake without so much as a word.
13. Back-to-back champs
On one side were the Fab Five in their trademark black socks, black shoes and baggy shorts. On the other side were Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and the rest of Krzyzewski’s clean-cut Blue Devils. The contrast of styles were what made the 1992 national title game memorable, even if the game itself didn’t provide a compelling finish.
Duke broke open a tight game with a 23-6 run over the game’s final 6-plus minutes to clinch a 71-51 victory. The outcome made the Blue Devils college basketball’s first back-to-back national champions since John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty.
14. From rivals, to friends, to brothers
When Jim Valvano was at Duke hospital receiving treatment for cancer, one of his most frequent visitors happened to be a former Tobacco Road rival. In 1993, Krzyzewski spent a few nights a week alongside the legendary former N.C. State coach.
On one of the last of those nights, Valvano told Krzyzewski, “I'm gonna die, but I'm gonna win." When Krzyzewski asked what he meant, Valvano said, "I want to beat cancer. After I die, when we've finally beat cancer, I want to be there."
Out of that conversation and others like it emerged the V Foundation, which has raised tens of millions of dollars for cancer research since Valvano’s 1993 death. Krzyzewski, a member of the V Foundation Board of Directors since its inception, has played a huge role in that, honoring the dying wishes of a dear friend.
15. The Pete Gaudet year
In January 1995, Krzyzewski announced he was indefinitely stepping away from coaching Duke. He had undergone back surgery three months earlier and he was experiencing complications.
The timing of his absence raised questions from critics. Duke was ranked 11th in the country but already off to an 0-2 start in the ACC when Krzyzewski took his leave. The Blue Devils crumbled from there under interim coach Pete Gaudet, dropping 14 of their final 18 games on their way to an embarrassing 13-18 finish.
Although Krzyzewski’s lost season marked the first time since 1983 that Duke didn’t make the NCAA tournament, those close to the coach have said that it also set the stage for his future success. He went from micromanager to program CEO around that time and began delegating more responsibility to his assistant coaches.
16. Heartbreak against the Huskies
It took Duke a few years to return to the top of college basketball, but by the 1998-99 season the Blue Devils were rolling again. Led by the core of Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Will Avery, Corey Maggette and Shane Battier, they swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles and stormed to the national title game with a 37-1 record.
The consensus was that Duke could not be beaten. That was an endless source of motivation for its title game opponent. Richard Hamilton, Khalid El Amin and Connecticut were not some slingshot-wielding plucky underdog, and they proved it on the sport’s biggest stage.
Langdon scored 25 points in Duke’s 77-74 loss, but he is remembered more for two mistakes in the final 10 seconds of the game. First, he committed a traveling violation with Duke trailing by one. Then, after UConn extended its lead to three, Langdon tripped and fell after dribbling the length of the floor and could not get a 3-point shot off before time expired.
17. Corey Maggette, William Avery and Duke’s new reality
In 1999, Brand, Maggette and Avery became the first underclassmen to leave Duke early in pursuit of NBA riches. Krzyzewski’s reaction to each of their departures was very different and very telling.
Brand’s departure was expected and he left with Krzyzewski's blessing, the Duke coach calling his decision "a no-brainer." Krzyzewski issued no statement when Maggette left early and his statement about Avery was scathing.
"I'm not in favor of William's decision at this time," Krzyzewski said. "We have done extensive research into the NBA for William and my conclusion was that entering the draft now would not be in his best interests."
The then-controversial departures of Avery and Maggette ushered in a new reality for Krzyzewski. No one in college basketball, not even Duke, could count on having its best players stay four years anymore.
18. The Corey Maggette scandal
Duke’s previously sparkling reputation endured damage in 2000 when Maggette admitted he accepted cash payments from the coach of his Kansas City-based AAU team while he was in high school. While the $2,000 seems quaint by today’s standards, the scandal sparked an avalanche of headlines and an NCAA investigation.
In April 2004, the NCAA announced it was taking no action against Duke for playing an ineligible player after concluding that Krzyzewski had no prior knowledge of the payments. No conflicting evidence has ever emerged, but opposing fans still point to Duke not having to vacate games as an example of preferential treatment.
19. The Miracle Minute
The most famous minute in Duke basketball history delivered maybe the most unlikely victory of Krzyzewski’s storied career. Duke trailed Maryland by 10 points with less than a minute to play in January 2001 when Jason Williams spearheaded one of the great comebacks in college basketball history.
Williams scored a layup, made a steal and buried a left-wing 3-pointer to slice the lead in half. Then, after Maryland's Drew Nicholas missed two free throws, Williams drained a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, paving the way for another Duke steal and a pair of Nate James free throws to force overtime.
The Blue Devils won 98-96 in overtime in front of a stunned Cole Fieldhouse, the first of four epic games between the two teams that season. Duke went on to stage the largest rally in Final Four history at Maryland’s expense later that season, storming back from a 22-point first-half deficit.
20. Dunleavy, Battier deliver title No. 3
The 2001 national title game was one of the last to feature teams loaded with upperclassmen NBA prospects. Duke and Arizona featured stars who already were accomplished college players and would go on to have pro success.
G: Chris Duhon (Duke) vs. Jason Gardner (Arizona)
G: Jason Williams (Duke) vs. Gilbert Arenas (Arizona)
F: Mike Dunleavy (Duke) vs. Richard Jefferson (Arizona)
F. Shane Battier (Duke) vs. Michael Wright (Arizona)
F. Carlos Boozer (Duke) vs. Loren Woods (Arizona)
In the end, a powerhouse Duke team pulled away down the stretch thanks to the shooting of Dunleavy, two huge put-backs from Battier and a couple of favorable second-half calls from the officials. The 82-72 victory secured Krzyzewski’s third national title and capped Battier’s storied college career in fitting fashion.
21. 'The ultimate professional honor'
In June 2001, Krzyzewski called being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame “the ultimate professional honor. What’s remarkable is that he has produced a second potentially Hall of Fame-worthy career since then.
Since 2001, Krzyzewski has won 589 games, claimed nine ACC tournament crowns and captured two national titles. He also has produced 29 NBA first-round draft picks in the past two decades, including No. 1 overall picks Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson.
22. Heartbreak against the Hoosiers
Want to give longtime Duke fans nightmares? Mention the names Jared Jeffries, Jarrad Odle and Tom Coverdale.
A 2002 Sweet 16 matchup with 11-loss Indiana appeared to be a speed bump on top-ranked Duke’s path to a repeat national title. Not only were the Hoosiers double-digit underdogs, they fell behind midway through the first half by 17 points.
And yet behind the toughness of Coverdale and the scoring and rebounding of Jeffries, Indiana methodically rallied and built a four-point lead with 11.1 seconds to go. Jay Williams buried a 3-pointer and drew a foul but he missed the potential game-tying free throw, ending his brilliant college career on a sour note.
Adding insult to injury for Duke: Rival Maryland went on to win the national title.
23. 'Duke has always taken up my whole heart'
In July 2004, the Los Angeles Lakers were looking for a new head coach. General manager Mitch Kupchak targeted Krzyzewski, and he enlisted Kobe Bryant to help recruit the Duke coach.
Krzyzewski has since admitted that was the closest he ever came to leaving Duke. The money, the new challenge and the chance to coach Bryant were all tempting, but Krzyzewski ultimately couldn’t put Duke in his rearview mirror.
"You have to follow your heart and lead with it,” Krzyzewski said, “and Duke has always taken up my whole heart."
24. A timely new challenge
In 2005, USA Basketball needed a change in leadership. Apathy and disinterest had set in, contributing to a stunning failure to medal at the 2002 FIBA World Cup and an underwhelming third-place finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
When Jerry Colangelo offered Krzyzewski the job, the timing could not have been better. The Duke coach was only a year removed from turning down the Lakers and was elated to have a chance to coach the best players in the world without having to leave the college superpower that he had built.
25. The American Express recruiting pitch
The most enduring image of the 2005 NCAA tournament might have come away from the court. It was an inescapable commercial featuring Krzyzewski shilling for American Express — or more accurately American Express shilling for Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski opens by saying, “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
Then, as images of him and his Duke assistants appear on the screen, Krzyzewski seems to speak directly to future recruits.
“When they get out into the workplace, they’re armed with not just a jump shot or a dribble,” he says. “I want you armed for life. I want you to develop as a player, I want you to develop as a student and I want you to develop as a human being.”
Critics of Krzyzewski said it was an unfair recruiting edge. Supporters countered that any coach in America would jump at the chance to film that commercial if given the opportunity. Ultimately, the commercial was within NCAA rules yet self-righteous enough to provide fodder for discussion for years.
26. A flagrant foul, a broken nose and a lesson in spin
In the dying seconds of North Carolina’s comfortable 86-72 victory over Duke in March 2007, Gerald Henderson committed a flagrant foul that instantly became an iconic moment in the history of the heated rivalry. The Duke forward clobbered Tyler Hansbrough on a put-back attempt, breaking the North Carolina star’s nose but not his spirit.
If North Carolina fans were angry with Henderson for what he did, they were even more irate at Krzyzewski for how he spun the story afterward.
Krzyzewski told reporters that “there was no intent” and it was “crazy and unfair" to Henderson to believe otherwise. He also indirectly blamed Roy Williams for still having his starters on the floor with the outcome already long decided.
"The game was over before that," he said. "That's unfortunate, too, that those people were in the game in that play. Maybe this wouldn't have happened."
27. Redeem Team captures gold
Before the 2008 Olympics, Krzyzewski strove to give his roster of NBA luminaries the freedom to be themselves while also instilling the importance of playing for their country. He brought in military generals and Navy SEALS to help his players feel what it was like to represent the USA and understand what it meant to serve.
Whatever strings Krzyzewski pulled seemed to work. A team of superstars came together to win all eight games it played, overwhelming each early opponent before outlasting a formidable Spain team in the gold medal game. Krzyzewski remained USA Basketball’s head coach until 2016 and won two more Olympic gold medals before passing the baton to Gregg Popovich.
28. Coach K goes from shunning 1-and-dones to relying on them
In 2005, days before the NBA implemented a rule change requiring players to be at least 19 before entering the draft, Krzyzewski was asked what that meant for Duke.
"I would never recruit a kid who said, 'I'm just coming for a year.' I never have," he told reporters. By that point Maggette and Luol Deng had already turned pro after just one season at Duke, but Krzyzewski viewed those two situations differently because neither player arrived in Durham with the intention of leaving as freshmen.
Only a few years later, with Duke coming off a few down seasons by its standards, Krzyzewski seemed to reconsider. He unsuccessfully chased presumed one-and-dones John Wall and Harrison Barnes before landing Kyrie Irving as the centerpiece of Duke’s 2010 recruiting class.
Irving, sidelined by a toe injury much of his lone season at Duke, played only 11 games for the Blue Devils. His greatest impact on Duke in many ways was not what he personally accomplished but the philosophical shift that he inspired.
29. 'How could a newspaper do that?'
On the eve of his team’s first Final Four appearance in six years, Krzyzewski was unamused by a caricature on the front of the Indianapolis Star’s sports page. An illustration of Krzyzewski with devil horns and a target on his forehead accompanied a story titled "Despising Duke" that detailed how some fans root against the Blue Devils.
“First thing I thought, ‘That can’t be,’” Krzyzewski said. “How could a newspaper do that? That’s like somebody doodled. Actually, I thought I looked better. But it was kind of juvenile. Not kind of. Just juvenile. And my seven grandkids didn’t enjoy looking at it. ‘It’s not Poppy.’
“We have great kids who go to school, who graduate. If we’re going to be despised or hated by anybody because we go to school and we want to win, you know what, that’s your problem.”
The Indianapolis Star apologized to Krzyzewski and pulled the illustration. Did Krzyzewski have a right to be annoyed? Perhaps. Did he also come across as thin-skinned? Without question.
30. Duke outlasts Butler’s Team of Destiny
While Duke spent the entirety of the 2009-10 season in the top 10 of the AP poll, the Blue Devils weren’t considered a national title favorite until near the end of the season. This was a program that had crashed out of the NCAA tournament early the previous few years. And this was a team led by five juniors and seniors in the era of the one-and-done.
While Duke didn’t have a single player selected in the 2010 NBA draft, the Blue Devils had a quintet of really good college basketball players and a coach with championship experience. Krzyzewski molded Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek into the core of college basketball’s best team over the second half of the season.
In the national title game, Duke survived the upset bid of a Brad Stevens-led Butler team that seemed to be a team of destiny that March. When Gordon Hayward’s famously close half-court shot clanged off the rim, Krzyzewski secured his fourth national title.
31. Krzyzewski breaks wins record
When Duke held off gritty Michigan State, 74-69, in mid-November 2011, it was more than just an early season marquee victory. Krzyzewski also tallied his 903rd career win, breaking Division I college basketball’s all-time record previously held by Knight.
Since Knight worked the game for ESPN that day, he and Krzyzewski shared a hug afterward. Krzyzewski told reporters that night that his former college coach said to him, “Boy, you’ve done pretty good for a kid who couldn’t shoot.”
“I took that to mean I think he loves me, too,” Krzyzewski said.
32. The Lehigh loss
When Duke faced 15th-seeded Lehigh in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament, the best player on the floor wasn’t wearing blue. Future NBA standout C.J. McCollum erupted for 30 points to lead the lightly regarded Mountain Hawks to a seismic 75-70 upset.
The first-round NCAA tournament exit was only the fourth of Krzyzewski’s Duke career to that point and by far the most disappointing. The Austin Rivers-led Blue Devils at one point were 26-4 before losing three of their last four games.
33. A lovestruck Krzyzewski meets Beyonce
Turns out even a five-time national champion isn’t impervious to nerves.
He still gets tongue-tied in the presence of a pretty girl.
On the night he presented LeBron James with Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award, Krzyzewski happened to be seated in the front row next to one of America’s favorite couples. Krzyzewski happily snapped a photo with Jay-Z, but it was Beyonce who he desperately wanted to meet.
“I go up and I'm nervous as I can be,” Krzyzewski said in 2013. “I'm like a teenager. And I go to her with a great line. I say, 'Hi, I'm Coach K.' And she said, 'Coach, I know who you are. I just listened to you for 10 minutes.' Like, patting me on the head, little boy. So now I feel like I'm 11. So what's my next line? I come up and I say, 'You're my favorite.' My face is red as can be, you know, I'm like 4 feet tall right now. And she says, 'Well, that's nice.' And I asked her — and I don't usually do this — but I said, 'Would you take a picture with me?'"
A rosy-cheeked Krzyzewski eventually got his picture. The rest of us got a refreshingly humanizing window into Krzyzewski’s life away from basketball.
34. The Mercer loss
While Duke suffered its second first-round NCAA tournament loss in three years in March 2014, the way that Krzyzewski handled the stunning defeat was admirable.
He spent most of his postgame news conference insisting that Duke did not overlook Mercer and that the third-seeded Blue Devils were simply beaten by a good team that was better than them that day. A few minutes later, he briefly ducked into Mercer’s locker room to congratulate the Bears in person.
“You guys have a hell of a basketball team,” Krzyzewski said. “I love the game and you guys play the game really, really well and your coach coaches it well. If we had to be beaten, I’m glad we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team.”
35. The package deal
In an era when package deals in recruiting often prove too complicated to execute, the Tyus Jones-Jahlil Okafor partnership proved to be an exception to that rule. The point guard from Minnesota and the center from Chicago were best friends and USA Basketball teammates who realized that playing together in college could be mutually beneficial.
“We complemented each other really well when we were on the same team,” Okafor told Yahoo Sports in 2015. “Then we also got extremely close off the floor and he became like my brother. I've always said if you take basketball out of the equation, I'd still want to go to college with Tyus."
The ability of Krzyzewski and associate head coach Jeff Capel to recruit both players separately and together helped Duke land the top big man and top point guard in the 2014 class. That duo teamed with fellow five-star freshman Justise Winslow to do what Irving, Rivers and Jabari Parker could not — lead the Blue Devils deep into the NCAA tournament.
36. Forgotten freshman rallies Duke to fifth national title
Duke’s vaunted freshmen combined for all 37 of the Blue Devils’ second-half points in the 2015 national title game, but it was the forgotten member of the class who came through when his team needed it most. Grayson Allen, who spent most of the season on the fringes of Duke’s rotation, delivered a timely spark just as Wisconsin appeared to be pulling away.
With Duke trailing by nine early in the second half and Okafor and Winslow saddled with foul trouble, Allen reentered the game and scored eight of his 16 points in the next two minutes. Then Jones buried a series of huge threes to help Duke secure Krzyzewski’s fifth national title.
"We were dead in the water," Krzyzewski said that night. "We were nine points down, and Grayson put us on his back. And once he got us in striking distance, we just said, 'Tyus, run high ball screen, and be you.' That’s great coaching, I guess."
37. Grayson Allen’s slap on the wrist
Brilliant as Allen was that Monday night and many nights to come, he left behind a complicated legacy after four years at Duke. He’ll always be branded a dirty player as a result of a trio of tripping incidents during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Krzyzewski came under fire for not punishing Allen for either of his first two incidents and then for taking a defiant stance after the third. While Krzyzewski acknowledged Allen’s behavior was “unacceptable,” he also insisted that he’d “handled this correctly” so far and that he didn’t “need to satisfy what other people think I should do.”
The next morning, under heavy media pressure, Krzyzewski suspended Allen “indefinitely.” The suspension ultimately lasted all of one game.
38. Caught in a lie
At the end of an 82-68 takedown of Duke in the 2016 West Regional semifinals, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks decided to try to pad the Ducks' margin of victory. He buried a deep 3-pointer and gestured in the direction of the Duke bench in celebration.
TV cameras caught Krzyzewski pull Brooks in close and whisper something in his ear as the two shook hands after the game. Brooks said Krzyzewski scolded him and told him he was "too good of a player to be showing off at the end." Krzyzewski said he merely told Brooks he was a “terrific player.” When informed of Brooks’ version of the chat, Krzyzewski defiantly insisted that he “didn’t say that” and again claimed he had paid Brooks only a compliment.
Audio of the exchange released by CBS the next day proved that Brooks gave an accurate account of the conversation and Krzyzewski did not. What Krzyzewski actually told Brooks was, “You’re too good a player to do that.”
Critics lambasted Krzyzewski for scolding an opposing player, getting caught in a lie and doubling down instead of coming clean. It was a mini-scandal that overshadowed the rest of the West Regional and didn’t portray Krzyzewski in a good light.
39. An opportunity slips away
If one upset haunts Mike Krzyzewski into retirement, it might be Duke’s 68-67 loss to Michigan State in the 2019 Elite Eight. With inevitable No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson flanked by fellow top-10 NBA draft picks R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, the Blue Devils possessed as much high-end talent as any team in Krzyzewski’s tenure.
The warning signs had flashed the previous two rounds as top-seeded Duke barely survived spirited efforts from UCF and Virginia Tech. Then down the stretch against Michigan State, the Blue Devils made the mistake of failing to play through the transcendent Williamson and instead putting their season in Barrett’s hands.
After the game, Krzyzewski deemed it a disappointing loss but not a disappointing year. The Duke coach concluded, “I’m proud of them.”
40. COVID-19 ends Duke’s season
With Duke a victory or two away from salvaging an NCAA tournament bid last year, its season ended in the most frustrating way possible. One of the Blue Devils tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the team’s ACC tournament quarterfinal against Florida State.
The positive test robbed Duke of a chance to extend its season just as Matthew Hurt and Mark Williams were playing some of their best basketball. Little did anyone know at the time that it would be Krzyzewski’s penultimate season as a college coach.
41. Jon Scheyer named Krzyzewski’s successor
If there’s one stain on Krzyzewski’s otherwise glowing resume, it’s that his coaching tree did not produce a surefire heir apparent. Many of Krzyzewski’s former players have gone on to become head coaches, but so far none have been wildly successful.
There were 10 Division I head coaches last season who played for Krzyzewski at Duke or worked under him. Not one had a winning record, let alone realistic hopes of landing an NCAA tournament bid.
That made the timing of Krzyzewski’s retirement less than ideal and helps explain why associate head coach Jon Scheyer got the job. Scheyer was unproven yet also untarnished, a national champion as a Duke player who built a strong reputation beside Krzyzewski but has never run a program of his own.
Can Scheyer keep Duke among college basketball’s elite programs? He’s off to an encouraging start. He has landed the best 2022 recruiting class in the country, including top-5 recruits Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II.
42. North Carolina spoils K's retirement party
Before Krzyzewski's final Duke home game last Saturday night, nearly 100 of his former players lined the floor to welcome him for the last time. Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Silver and Ken Jeong were among the faces in the crowd. So were blue-painted students who had slept in tents for more than a month to obtain tickets.
Everything was set up for a perfect curtain call for Krzyzewski, except that North Carolina spoiled his fairy-tale ending. An unranked, previously underwhelming Tar Heels team that lost in February to Duke by 20 in Chapel Hill came up huge in a historic game, rallying from a nine-point first-half deficit and pulling away late for a 94-81 crowd-silencing stunner.
For North Carolina, it was maybe the most satisfying win in program history that didn't raise a banner. For Duke, it was so bitterly disappointing that Krzyzewski felt compelled to grab a microphone afterward to deliver an impromptu apology and to vow not to let this define his final season.
"I'm sorry about this afternoon," he said. "No, please, everyone be quiet, let me just say — that was unacceptable. Today was unacceptable. But the season has been very acceptable. And I'll tell you, the season isn't over."