When Duke hosts Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, it will be Mike Krzyzewski’s final game on the bench for awhile.
Krzyzewski will undergo lower back surgery on Friday to remove a fragment of a herniated disc, Duke announced Monday morning. Associate head coach Jeff Capel will coach Duke during Krzyzewski’s recovery, which is expected to take up to four weeks.
The surgery was a last resort after other more conservative treatment options failed. Dr. Allan Friedman will perform the procedure at Duke University Hospital.
“During my recovery process, the team will be in the capable hands of Coach Capel, Coach [Nate] James and Coach [Jon] Scheyer,” Krzyzewski said in a statement released by Duke. “As soon as the doctors clear me to do so, I look forward to returning and giving our team 100 percent of my energy and attention, which is certainly something that they deserve.”
Krzyzewski’s surgery comes at a pivotal moment in Duke’s surprisingly turbulent season. The preseason No. 1 Blue Devils (12-2) are without suspended star Grayson Allen and are still trying to work heralded freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden into their rotation now that each has returned from injury.
Duke looked especially poor in its most recent game, an 89-75 loss at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils were too reliant on 1-on-1 isolation plays on offense and did a poor job containing dribble penetration or getting back in transition on defense.
How Duke evolves over the next month will be an important barometer for Jeff Capel’s chances of someday succeeding Krzyzewski. The former VCU and Oklahoma coach has been instrumental in recruiting some of Duke’s biggest stars in recent years and is considered a leading contender to take over for Krzyzewski someday.
Krzyzewski, 69, has led Duke to five national titles and 12 Final Four appearances in 37 years in Durham.
Krzyzewski stepped away from the Duke program for the final three months of the 1994-95 season because of back issues. The Blue Devils, 9-3 that season when Krzyzewski took his leave of absence, struggled to a 13-18 finish under interim coach Pete Gaudet and missed the NCAA tournament.
There have no other major back flareups since then for Krzyzewski until now. He did undergo knee surgery this past April and missed one game last season after feeling under the weather and being taken to the hospital for tests.
“To be sure, the entire Duke community is supportive and eager to get Mike back as soon as possible,” Duke athletic director Kevin White said in a statement. “His health is paramount, and he will get the best possible care in the world by the Duke medical team. With the proper recovery time, we look forward to Mike doing what he does best — leading and teaching — very soon.”