DURHAM, N.C. – Mike Krzyzewski strode into a conference room at the Duke basketball offices Tuesday afternoon exuding energy. At age 68 and coming off his fifth national championship, the winningest coach in college basketball history seems as enthused as ever – about his program, his most recent title team, his players who will be drafted Thursday night and the general state of the game.
Below are excerpts from a wide-ranging, 45-minute question-and-answer session with Yahoo Sports and ESPN:
Q: Now that you’ve had a few months to process the fun of it all ... you guys are moving on.
A: At times you forget that you won. So every once in a while, I’ll text my assistants and say, “Just in case you didn’t know, we won the national championship.” Because people think that’s all you’ve been doing is celebrating. We lost more than half our team. When you go that far, and school ends in April, classes ended April 25 – first of all, the tournament is like another season. You’re away so long. And then the intense recruiting we had to do when these guys declared. All the avalanche of good things that come when you’re winning – events, honors, things that you have to do, in addition to what you normally have to do – it’s been a big catch-up. This last week I felt like I caught up more, because we’re running camp and I’m here. But our guys are coming into school this weekend. Our freshmen arrive Friday and Saturday. Our upperclassmen arrive Sunday. They start summer school second semester on Monday. And then Marshall (Plumlee) comes a week later. He’s actually at Fort Knox, Ky., going through officer training and leadership training. Then we’ll have them together.
Q: There’s much greater turnover for your program than there has been in the past (after losing three freshmen stars and replacing them with a new group of highly ranked recruits). Are you comfortable with it?
A: I think you should make yourself comfortable with it. One of the reasons we’ve been fortunate enough to continue to have a high level of success is adaptability. Technique-wise and X-and-O-wise, adaptability, but also the way our game is changing and has changed. I think it’s going to continue to change. I think some of the things changing right now are unbelievably good in the last year – what we can do for student-athletes, and where that will go, I think will only get better. But it will also change, because not everybody’s going to be able to do it.
I think what (Belmont coach) Rick Byrd has done (as chairman of the men’s basketball rules committee) has been magnificent. I’ve called him and told him that he did more for our game in one swoop than we’ve had in the last quarter century. He’s a magician, and I hope he stays on with it. That game, “Mother May I?” We’ve had “Mother May I,” and we’ve never taken any steps. We need to take like five giant steps, and we probably only took two giant steps. But they’re giant steps. I’d like for him to be a permanent head. He should be getting an unbelievable amount of credit. There’s basically no momentum, and he created it. Now we have momentum for change. ...
I like where our game is going. The popularity, the feeling of the championship game, there’s a lot of good stuff. Hopefully we get cooperation from the top conferences, along with top basketball conferences that are not in that power five, to have some futuristic thinking, some planning, of what to do. Will there be 110 teams (actually 128), like football (in Division I)? Without getting on my soap box, that’s why we need someone in charge of basketball.
Q: Do you think a 110-team division (instead of the current 351) would be good?
A: I don’t know. There should be somebody studying impact. What if the Big East and the five power, and the American, the Missouri Valley – how many does that make? Also, some people come to the reality that if you’re one of the ones below (that group), do you do something more?
Let people have time to react instead of just excluding. Hopefully we’d never exclude everybody, but somebody is going to be excluded. Football does that. We don’t do it.
Q: Do you feel like we’re on the precipice of monumental changes, then?
A: Yeah, yeah. I do think the year for the student-athlete was terrific, and it’s going to keep getting better. We’re moving there. The game itself is moving. (But) the structure that we’re in, the building – we don’t know what building we’re in. Like, how many stories is it? But that should be exciting. It is exciting, but I don’t know whether we can even talk about it, yet.
When things are like that, we need leadership. That doesn’t mean the leader knows where it’s going to end up, but we know it’s not going to end up where it is right now. It’s not a start-up company, but change is going, and what can be done? I always go back to when Jerry (Colangelo) took over USA Basketball. ... He took over and it’s had a positive impact on everything in basketball – pro, college, international, youth. There should be somebody like him out there.
Q: Are you nominating yourself?
A: No. I don’t think I’d even be good at something like that. I’d give as much input as I could, but I really think someone with a legal background would be good.
Q: Like a Jay Bilas (ESPN analyst and former Duke player)?
A: Well, someone like Jay Bilas. I think a guy like him would be really good. I think a guy like (current NCAA vice president for men’s basketball) Danny Gavitt has been really good – he feels the game. You want to make sure you’re not so much part of bureaucracy that you fall into the major traps of bureaucracy: “We’ve never done it that way before,” and “We can’t spend that money.” A guy like Colangelo, he doesn’t think that way.
Q: Do you think in 10 years, when we’re looking at college basketball and the NCAA tournament, it will look dramatically different?
A: However we take it forward, it’s got to be inclusive of everybody. It may not be as inclusive to the amount of teams, but it touches every part of our country because there’s basketball in every part of our country. You still have to give a spot to the so-called little guy. We’ve been beaten by the little guy, and the little guys are pretty damn good. Now, if this goes the way it is, it will be tough for some of the little guys to be as good as they’ve been.
But I think you should never get away from a bracket, and never get away from March. What is it they say in business, “Location, location, location”? We have a good location.
Q: If all of a sudden the season starts in January ...
A: Don’t. I think that would be disastrous. As I think it would if we do away with the bracket. Now, who you put in those brackets – the more inclusive you could be, the better, because it truly is a national tournament. ...
Here’s the main thing: whatever the future of TV is, we should be inclusive of the partners of the game. Like, ESPN has done a magnificent job of growing our game. They did it even better this year, because of the Kentucky story. They followed it from the Bahamas – they almost seem like they orchestrated it. They didn’t, but college basketball was followed whether you love Kentucky or hated them. They were talking about Kentucky, they weren’t talking about Jabari Parker or Julius Randle. I think it was luck, but the Kentucky story, getting back to teams, helped. We bet on eight, and eight came in. But as we go forward, we can’t just bet on things. ... I think that’s one of the reasons we had the ratings we did. A lot of people said, “Can you imagine if we and Kentucky played?” ...
As far as the game, where it’s at, a lot of the old guys are staying around. (Rick) Pitino is going to stay until he’s 90. I texted him after he got his (contract extension through 2026) and said, “How old are you?” But I love Rick.
Q: Are you staying until you’re 90?
A: Well, I’m not leaving yet. I don’t think I’ll stay that long. I hope I’m here that long.
Q: Just sitting here, I can feel your enthusiasm and energy for the game as a whole. Is it still there for your team?
A: The team I just had was so stinking good and close, it kind of gives you more years. It's a joy to be with those kids.
It's all been sweet because we knew Jah (Okafor) was gonna go. I don't think you could have predicted the other two kids (Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones), especially in January when Justise was averaging three points a game and didn’t score in the St. John’s game.
But I think I'm on that path of recruiting and work, just the realization to enjoy the time you have with them, and make sure you bring in kids you can enjoy. That was a crazy special year. Our guys were so good at the end. ... And we won, which was cool, unbelievably cool.
In the tournament, we were the best defensive team. That’s why when they say Jah can’t defend the ball screen – c’mon, man. We also don’t want him away from the bucket. We also don’t want him in foul trouble. Justise’s emergence was spectacular. ...
We react to what the agent and the kid needs. We’re now on the kid’s team. What do you need? They’re all in great shape. I think Jah and Justise have a chance to be stars. And Tyus is just going to be that steady winner. I hope he goes to a team that has veterans, because he’s been a winner. He wins. He’s never afraid. In big moments, he’s at his best. He’ll hit every free throw. He’ll figure it out.
Q: Are you going to the draft?
A: I never go to the draft. Nothing against anyone who goes, but I don’t want it to be my TV appearance. But I want (assistant coach) Jeff (Capel) to be there. ...
We’re so close to their families. These guys (the 2014-15 freshman class) were so fun, and their families were so fun. The best recruiting visit we’ve ever had here was at my house – the Okafors, Winslows and Jones, they all visited the same weekend, which is unusual. We were at my house and we had so much fun. And that’s who they were the entire time. That’s why, them leaving, it can’t be bitter. There were too many good things. It does make you anxious to see if we can develop that with a new group.
... And Quinn (Cook), the biggest change, the biggest improvement I’ve ever seen as a leader. Quinn has always been everyone else’s little brother. This year he got the chance to be a big brother. He was a damn good big brother. He has a chance (in the NBA). He can be a force multiplier on a team – upbeat, he can shoot, he can guard the ball, he’s live. A lot of these teams don’t put together personalities. Cleveland was hurt, but they were so old. Good guys, but old guys. They had three guys who couldn’t play – (Brendan) Haywood, (Kendrick) Perkins and (Shawn) Marion. You don’t want that. You want someone who can be lively in the locker room. ... The real good organizations look at things like that. There aren’t many, because you get intoxicated with talent.
Q: Your next class has big shoes to fill, not in terms of winning a championship but developing the closeness your previous team did. How can you make that happen again?
A: If we concentrate on them trying to replicate in their own way the cohesiveness, the fun and all that, the other stuff will take care of itself. I think we were good because we were close. ... Our guys are tough. How can they know one another? And know one another's personality?
I miss our guys. Jah’s on the West Coast and all of a sudden I get a text, “Coach, I miss ya. I miss Duke.” Justise, he’s more out there, he’s wearing some sort of crown or something on Instagram.
So I text him and say, “What’s with the crown?” He says, “Very deserving.” So I text him back, “Not yet. Keep working.” And then right away, “Yes sir.”
Q: So does that mean you’re on Instagram?
A: I follow guys. I don't want to be on Twitter because I don't care. I don't want their opinions. I don't need to show that I have X amount of followers. But I follow a lot of people on Twitter, under an alias. I tell my guys, “I'm following you.” Then if I see something, you text them. You’ve got to watch. But there are a lot of cool things that they do. I like that they do it.
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