One more year: Duke looks to send Coach K off a winner

Krzyzewski doesn’t want to focus on farewell

Duke center Mark Williams gets direction from coach Mike Krzyzewski during Saturday's exhibition game against Winston-Salem State in Durham. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

DURHAM — Change is tough, especially when someone has done the same thing for more than four decades.

For Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, starting the final season of a tenure in Durham that dates back to 1980, it seems to catch him at random times.

After the Blue Devils blew out Winston-Salem State in Saturday’s exhibition game, Coach K discussed the Blue Devils’ long tradition of playing a warm-up game against an HBCU.

“It’s very important because it’s a sign of respect, and these teams are very good,” Krzyzewski said. “The schools are outstanding HBCU schools. We have ultimate respect for them. So, we’ll continue to do that.”

Coach K then caught himself.

“Well,” he added. “Jon [Scheyer] will determine what we do. I think that we will continue to do that.”

There are still five months to go before Jon Scheyer officially takes over the Duke program, but it’s clear that the Blue Devils are in transition, as Krzyzewski has one last go-round before stepping down.

Krzyzewski, who, in his 40-plus years in Durham, has never met a media question he accepted the premise of, refuses to focus on the fact this is his final season.

“That’s not going through my mind,” he said. “My mind is on this season, and when it’s over, I’ll know that it’s my last. These guys deserve for me to be in their season, so that’s where I’m at.”

When asked about Scheyer’s role, Krzyzewski said, “Well, he’s not a coach-in-waiting, he’s my associate head coach. He’s been with me for eight years, and he’s basically going to do the same fantastic job that he’s always done and then take over and continue to do that job.”

Duke appears to have a strong team that will be on the short list of favorites to cut down the nets in March, potentially giving Krzyzewski a storybook ending to his career. Not that he’ll bite when asked about that narrative.

“They can’t play for me,” he said about the idea of giving him one last championship before he rides off into the sunset. “They’ve got to play for us. We’re not going to be good unless we own it. Like you can’t do it for somebody. You’ve got to do it for you, for your group. That’s the mentality that we’ve had and we’ll continue to have.”

While Coach K doesn’t want to discuss it, early returns on Duke this season seem to indicate that the Blue Devils could have a special season. Duke broke tradition and played a “secret scrimmage” in Washington, D.C., against No. 4 Villanova. While there are no official results, by all reports, the Blue Devils had the advantage over the Wildcats, led by freshman big man Paolo Banchero, who logged a double-double.

Banchero leads a top-rated freshman class that also features scorer Trevor Keels, wing AJ Griffin, who returned from a preseason injury to play in Duke’s exhibition win over Winston-Salem State, and guard Jaylen Blakes.

Unlike other freshman phenoms in Duke Blue, Banchero won’t be asked to do it all for the Blue Devils. He’s surrounded by a veteran group — something Duke has lacked on many occasions in the one-and-done era. Junior Wendell Moore is a do-everything glue player. Senior Joey Baker is a deadly outside shooter who can also score at the rim. Sophomore big man Mark Williams could end up being Duke’s top option after Banchero. Duke also added a pair of grad transfers, including former Marquette shot-blocker Theo John, giving Duke size and depth inside that has rarely been seen under Krzyzewski.

The smaller Blue Devils are also versatile and able to play the positionless basketball Coach K prefers.

“I think that one of the strengths of our team is in the group that starts, we really have four ball-handlers, including Paolo,” he said. “So that’s why we advance the ball fast. When one of those guys gets it, they don’t need to throw it to somebody to bring it up. They bring it up, and we’re very comfortable. So, we don’t have a so-called point guard … and if Jaylen is in there, he can do that also. Those five guys are guys that you’d want with the ball.”

With size and depth inside and out, things look promising for Coach K’s send-off. Now, if only he could get the media to cooperate by asking the right questions.

“Just be the effervescent people that you’ve been for over four decades,” he advised reporters at media day. “Where it’s been so exciting to be with you and hearing your questions and reading what you actually think I said. No, just go for it and let’s see what the hell happens.”