The Duke basketball team returned to Durham on Tuesday to celebrate its fifth national title. It may have been nothing new for Mike Krzyzewski, but for former Blue Devil and current assistant Jeff Capel? Completely new.
Capel, 40, enrolled at Duke in 1993 – not long after the Blue Devils won back-to-back national championships – and he became an assistant under Coach K in 2011, the year after Duke beat Butler for its fourth national title.
Indeed, for Capel, Tuesday was truly special.
“It was amazing,” Capel said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It was amazing. It was a jolt of energy. You want to get back and share it (with the fans) because they were a huge part of it. We were able to become a really good team all year, and a big part of it was the support we got from our fans. These kids on our team, they’re kids. They really love being at Duke and they understand what being here means. They love their classmates. And so, to be able to come back and share in the excitement and the joy and the pride that all of us feel from bringing this home, it’s not just a championship for men’s basketball; it’s a championship for Duke University. And for all of us to be able to come back and to share that special moment yesterday with them was pretty amazing.”
Yes, it was – despite what Bo Ryan said about the officiating Monday night. And despite his not-so-subtle jab at the “rent-a-player” philosophy Krzyzewski and John Calipari have embraced in recent years.
“Well, Coach Ryan is one of the best coaches and one of the really good guys in our profession,” Capel said. “I’ve never experienced (losing the national championship) as a coach. As a player, in 1994, my freshman year, we lost in the national championship game, and I can’t imagine as a coach how it would be to (lose that game). Your heart’s been ripped out. You have these guys that have been with you and elected to stay in school in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, and you have this group that all year you’ve been playing for this moment, and you get there and you come up short. So I’m sure there was some frustration with his comments.”
That’s fair, but Coach K never said anything like that after losing a national championship.
“Everyone’s different,” Capel said. “You can’t expect everyone to be the same. I didn’t hear the whole context. I know from experience where you can say something and it may make sense if you read the whole paragraph or you hear the question and the way it’s answered. But sometimes the way it’s printed, sometimes the way it’s put on Twitter, you just see the comment and it can be taken out of context. I just know that Coach Ryan is a really, really good guy. Obviously a hell of a coach. I’m sure he was frustrated that they lost. They had a nine-point lead. It seemed like things were going their way and then our guys fought and clawed.
“I can tell you this,” Capel continued. “They had two team fouls at halftime, and we had two of our best players saddled on the bench in foul trouble. I know at halftime we didn’t talk to our guys about the officiating. In fact, we told Justise (Winslow) and we told Jahlil (Okafor), ‘Look, when you go out there, you have to play your butt off. If I see you playing to not foul, I’m taking you out of the game.’ That’s one thing we never did. We never talked about the officiating. That’s something we’ll never do.”
Capel, who was the head coach at VCU (2002-06) and Oklahoma (2006-11), was asked if he’s ready to be a head coach again. Apparently, he is.
“That’s something that I certainly aspire to do,” Capel said. “I got in it as a head coach really young. I was 27 when I got the job at VCU. We were able to have some success there. The thing I was most proud of during my time there at VCU . . . (is) we changed the culture of VCU basketball. We changed the way people thought about the basketball program there in the city of Richmond and also throughout the state of Virginia. So I was really proud of that.”
Capel led Blake Griffin and Oklahoma to the Elite Eight in 2009 but was out of a job two years later. After serving as an assistant for four years, though, Capel may be a head coach sooner rather than later.
“I do want to be a head coach again,” he said. “It’s something that when the right situation presents itself and everything fits, (I’ll know). I’m not chasing it. Because I have already done it. I know some of the mistakes that I made. I also know some things I did really well, but more importantly, I’ve been able to learn a lot here and I’m continuing to learn. So when the right situation comes, I’ll know it, I’ll feel it and I won’t hesitate to jump at it.”