“He likes to eat his young”: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski prepares to face former player

UCF, led by former Duke player and coach Johnny Dawkins, is up next for Duke

Central Florida coach Johnny Dawkins points during the team's first-round game against VCU in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Friday, March 22, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the fall of 2013, right before Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC, Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey was asked about the prospect of facing his former boss, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on a regular basis.

“He likes to eat his young,” Brey, who spent eight years on Coach K’s staff, joked.

Brey actually acquitted himself well, winning five of his first six ACC games against Duke. He remains the only former Krzyzewski assistant to beat the Hall of Fame coach. Krzyzewski’s record against members of his coaching tree stands at 26-5, and he’s won the last six.

UCF coach Johnny Dawkins is on the list of the young Krzyzewski has eaten. The Blue Devils beat Dawkins’ Stanford team 70-59 early in Duke’s 2014-15 championship season.

“I don’t even remember it, to be quite frank,” Krzyzewski says of the game. “Once the game starts, it doesn’t matter who I’m coaching against, really. And then once it’s over, I don’t have a rearview mirror. It’s on to the next thing. I don’t even remember it. I think we won. Did we win? Yeah.”

It’s not that Krzyzewski bears ill will toward his former coaches. Quite the opposite. He’d rather avoid meeting them on the court if necessary.

“Why would you want to?” he said. “They’re family. If you don’t have to play against him, I’m not going to do it.”

Dawkins and Krzyzewski will meet again Sunday when No. 1 Duke and No. 9 UCF play for a berth in the Sweet 16.

“It’s one of those things where, for all of us, it’s — like I said, it’s awkward, too, because you don’t feel — it’s someone that you’ve worked for. You’re very close with,” Dawkins said. “Like I said before, no one looks forward to that type of situation. It’s something that happens because we’re in the tournament, and it means we’ve done well, because we’re all moving forward, but it’s not something you look forward to.”

Unlike his former coach and boss, Dawkins does admit to remembering his first game coaching against Krzyzewski.

“I think it does help some that we’ve done this once before, where we were in this environment,” he said. “It’s still the same. You still don’t relish it, but it’s still something you’ve already experienced. You understand everything that’s kind of — that will be around this. That’s a good thing for me, and I’m sure the same thing for Coach. He’s done it with several former players before. I had never done it with Coach until that time. So it was good to kind of understand what that was all about.”

The ties between Duke and UCF are deep. Former Blue Devils player Vince Taylor, who was on Krzyzewski’s first team with Duke, is an assistant on Dawkins’ staff.

“In Vince’s case, we were going through an amazing transition there,” Krzyzewski said. “He was captain of my team, and we were 10-17, but I can remember in the last game we’re playing Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament. There are about four people left in the Greensboro Coliseum, and he had 30-something points and played his heart out. We’ve become great friends. I’m glad that he and Johnny are together. And in Johnny’s case, obviously, he was the start of us developing our program at Duke. Our first great player.”

UCF guard Aubrey Dawkins, who grew up in Durham while his dad worked for Coach K, is one of the leading scorers on his dad’s roster.

“For us, having been a part of the Duke family, of course, it was special,” Coach Dawkins said. “We all realized that. We all felt fortunate to be a part of it. We all felt fortunate to play for Coach and work for Coach in my case. For my son, growing up in Durham, that was special. He was always around the team, always in the gym working out afterwards, so I’m sure it’s a unique feeling for him as well.”

The younger Dawkins credits his youth spent hanging around Cameron as helping to jump-start his career.

“I spent a lot of time around the guys, especially growing up,” he said. “Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones, all kinds of players I can list off. And just seeing them as I worked out and worked out in the gym after practice was done or working out in the college gym. So, yeah, a lot of good memories. It was good for my foundation to see that.”

The reunion will feature plenty of hugs before and after Sunday’s game, but once the whistle blows, both men on the bench will be looking to do everything they can to beat the other. Krzyzewski wouldn’t have it any other way, and he’s taught his protégé Dawkins well.

Of course, that coach/player relationship never goes away.

“That’s always there,” Dawkins said. “He’d probably put me on the line now, and I’ll probably start running suicides. That’s just part — once someone’s coached you, they’re your coach for the rest of your life. That’s how it is.”