Duke's Coach K on the challenges of pandemic basketball: 'We're just plowing through this'

Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked whether it “feels right” to be playing college basketball during a pandemic on Tuesday night, right after Duke lost 83-68 to Illinois. He echoed some of what Pitt coach Jeff Capel said on Monday when he was asked a similar question: the lack of overall leadership in college basketball, in conferences and the NCAA, is a major problem.

Via The Athletic’s Brandon Marks:

“I don’t think it feels right to anybody. I mean, everyone is concerned. You know, we made an assessment or ... I’m not sure who leads college basketball, you know. It’s done by committee. You have [an] oversight committee, you have this committee, and anything that’s led by committee is not agile in handling a situation. And so we made an assessment, and there was a consensus. It wasn’t, like, well-planned that we’re going to start Nov. 25. That was made without knowing if there’s going to be or the vaccine was, how many cases. Basically, it was more of a mentality of, ‘Get as many games in as possible.’”

Notably, Coach K didn’t say that athlete health and safety was considered when the decision was made to start the season. It was all about getting in as many games as possible.

‘We’re just plowing through this’

Coach K does care about the mental and physical health of his athletes, and tried to put that in the larger context of the thousands of US COVID-19 deaths each day. He said that he wats to “assess where we’re at” given the conditions in the country, and maybe “reassess” in January or February when the vaccine may be available.

He stopped short of saying that anything should be stopped or delayed, though. He’s going to do what Duke, the ACC, and the NCAA tell him to do.

“And look, I’m going to do whatever they say. We’re gonna make the most out of everything they say, about everything that’s said. But yeah, it’s a different time. It’s just a different time. And, you know, look, I just got my butt beat a lot. So anything I say someone can say, ‘Well, he’s saying that because he got his butt beat.’ And you know, do I think things should be done a little bit differently? Yeah. I mean, a lot of kids aren’t gonna be able to go home for Christmas; probably a time where they should for mental health. We’re just plowing through this.”

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 02: Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski during the 1st half of the Duke Blue Devils game versus the NC State Wolfpack on March 2nd, 2020 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.(Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski believes the lack of leadership in college basketball is playing a big role in how the pandemic is being handled by programs around the country. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

‘We need to constantly look at this thing’

One thing was clear from Coach K’s comments: He doesn’t think the NCAA or the ACC is handling this well. He’s not happy that coaches aren’t getting information about the condition of other programs. But the forthcoming vaccine does give him hope.

“Really even, we should get updates as to how many programs are on pause a week, how many cases there were, what’s going on, instead of just plowing through. But, look. I know somebody will take what I’m saying tonight, and make it like I’m making excuses. I don’t make excuses. We need to get a lot better. But for the good of the game, and the good of the safety and mental and physical health of our players and staff and whatever, we need to constantly look at this thing. And I think that’s a smart thing to do. And whatever happens as a result of looking at it, understand that there are vaccines coming.”

As Capel mentioned on Monday, Coach K thinks the lack of leadership in college basketball and at the NCAA level is a major problem. It’s one of the reasons he and other programs are just “plowing through” the season, trying their best to keep their players safe. There’s no one he can talk to about this at the NCAA, so they just have to keep on keeping on.

“I know that the NCAA is worried about the end game. They’re not as worried about the game we’re playing right now. And who is it that you talk to? Like, you’re asking me, but do you know who to call and ask about that? And, you know, we’re smiling and laughing, but that’s sad, right? I think that’s sad.”

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