Mike Krzyzewski is basketball royalty. He’s been to 12 Final Fours, won five national championships and won more than 1,000 games – and that’s before we get to his accomplishments with the U.S. men’s national team.
In 40+ years of coaching, including 36 at Duke, Krzyzewski has had a lot of talent come through his program. Not everyone was an All-American when they arrived in Durham, but many achieved that status over the course of their careers.
Still, has there ever been a player that struggled when he got to Duke but wound up being great? Has there ever been a player that Coach K wasn’t sure about?
“It’s not so much that we weren’t sure; it’s just that they weren’t ready,” Krzyzewski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I tell my players all the time: Run your race. Your race might be different than another youngster who comes in with you. That guy might be more physically mature, more ready, but we believe in you. Trust the process. Trust the process. You have players – even (Shane) Battier, who was the high school player of the year coming out of high school, he came out the same year that Elton Brand did, and Elton was probably ranked 20th in the country. Well, Elton was more ready to play college basketball. He was the No. 1 pick after his sophomore year at Duke. Battier was a starter and averaged seven points a game, but his junior and senior year, his race changed.”
Battier led Duke to a national title in 2001.
“WoJo (Steve Wojciechowski) was not an instant hit, but his junior and senior year was terrific,” Krzyzewski said, citing another example. “So run your own race. Don’t be distracted by the fact that someone else might be better right now. Try to use those talents to make you better. That’s what we’ve tried to do over the years at Duke.”
The one-and-done rule has changed college basketball over the last decade and beyond, but Krzyzewski insists it hasn’t changed his approach to recruiting.
“You have to adapt,” he said. “A lot of people say we’ve changed our recruiting philosophy, and we haven’t. We have not changed one thing about the type of youngster we look for. We look for a youngster who’s a really good basketball player, good academically and has great character – and those kids now go early. Grant Hill would have gone earlier. (Christian) Laettner would have gone earlier if it was today. So we have not changed at all – except we have to do it more frequently, and then we also have to be able to have some slippage. We’re never going to get them to the level they would get to as juniors and seniors.”
No. 8 Duke (8-1) next plays at home against Georgia Southern (3-4) on Dec. 15. The Blue Devils have won six straight games since losing to Kentucky in the Champions Classic.