A ring for each finger: Coach K wins 5th national championship

By Jim O’Connell


INDIANAPOLIS _ It’s John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke’s Coach K won his fifth national championship Monday night with a 68-63 victory over Wisconsin. Only Wooden, who won an incredible 10 at UCLA, is above Krzyzewski on the list of champions.

“Whenever you mention Coach Wooden, he’s separate from everybody,” Krzyzewski said.

When the buzzer sounded and No. 5 was official, Krzyzewski turned toward his bench with his hands high above his head. Then came the rush of assistant coaches _ all former Duke players _ for a group hug that included jumping up and down just like the players he led to a 35-4 record.

He didn’t have to run around the court looking for someone to hug like Jim Valvano did in 1983 when North Carolina State shocked the college basketball world. Players ran toward Krzyzewski and one by one they got hugs, hard hugs, the kind of hugs men give each other after a hard-fought win that meant history.

Krzyzewski was already alone at the top of the Division I victory list. In his 40 seasons _ 35 at Duke _ he has won 1,018 games. His total is the only one with a comma.

His national championships came in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and now 2015. He was 44 years old when he won his first. He is 68 now and only Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun was older when he won a title _ his third in 2011 _ and that was by nine months.

“Two guys have distanced themselves from the rest of us _ John and Mike,” Calhoun said minutes after Monday’s title game. “If you’re starting a Mount Rushmore of college coaches it’s them. He is one hell of a coach.”

The minutes leading to Krzyzewski’s latest championship game were just like all his other games, even if not this important. The graduate of West Point who retired from the Army at the rank of captain stood at attention during the national anthem. Nobody stands as erect as he does during the anthem. It looks as if he is waiting to be inspected by a superior officer.

Then the game starts and few are as intense as he is. He implores his team to play defence. He works the officials _ boy, does he work the officials _ and he stands in front of his bench. (In this game he sat in front of the bench on a stool near the edge of the raised court).

When this latest championship game ended Krzyzewski got cut down the nets. He doesn’t have his own ladder and scissors but he has that same look each time he snips that last piece of nylon and waves the net to the Duke fans.

Three of his titles have come in Indianapolis _ 1991, his first, 2010, and 2015.

“It’s been a terrific floor for us,” Krzyzewski said. “It was heaven, it was really divine.”

And he won’t compare titles.

“All of them are great. The one you’re in this moment with is always the most current, you can feel it the best,” he said. “I haven’t loved a team any more than I’ve loved this team. … They’ve been a joy. They’ve been an incredible joy. When you’re already happy, and you get happier, it’s pretty damn good. It’s pretty good.”

Nothing much changes for Duke except the star players Krzyzewski recruits. It’s a program of consistency. It’s a program that has become the model for others.

“I just love these guys with all my heart, and Coach K, man, Coach K, he just helps everybody man,” senior guard Quinn Cook said. “He is the greatest. He wasn’t focused on getting his fifth championship. He was focused on getting our first together. We’re all just blessed to be a part of this Duke program.

“To be next to Coach, he’s been like a father to me and to have him next to me and having his arm around me as we watched ‘One Shining Moment’ was probably the best moment of my life.”

Krzyzewski is loved by the Duke students and alumni. They even named the tent city where students line up for tickets “Krzyzewskiville.” He is despised by most opponents, especially by fans of North Carolina, which is just 8 miles from Durham. They feel Duke’s nickname of Blue Devils is very appropriate.

Krzyzewski has led the United States to three Olympic gold medals and he will coach the team again in Rio in 2016.

He wins with Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Shane Battier, Jay Williams and current stars Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones wearing blue uniforms. He wins with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other NBA stars wearing red, white and blue.

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