Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Knowing How To Adapt: The Continued Success of Mike Krzyzewski

With a 68-63 win over Wisconsin, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils took home their fifth National a Championship in school history.

Love him or hate him, but you must respect everything he's did for the game of basketball.

Just like every coach, Mike Krzyzewski's legendary career wouldn't be legendary if he didn't know how to counter defeat with storied success. It is a reason why he is one of only two coaches (the other? Jim Calhoun) to win championships in three different decades.

Sustained success has been Krzyzewski's calling card. Through more than 1,018 wins as a head coach, Krzyzewski has adapted. The legendary coach didn’t stay stubborn to his approach; he moved with the ever-changing climate of college basketball.

He's still a student of the game, and being a part of the global stage with Team USA with great coaches with different philosophies on how to win, the ultimate winner learned from his colleagues.

A prime example comes on the defensive end of the floor. Zone defense isn’t a foreign concept to Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have rarely used it over the years, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t familiar with how it works. As coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, Krzyzewski regularly faces opponents who try to use a zone defense to stop Team USA. He also has a close friendship with Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the Olympic Team coaching staff and the architect of the 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse. Therefore Krzyzewski now incorporates it into his defensive gameplan as he sees fit. 

The USA basketball experience has only made Krzyzewski better.

Coach K employed the 2-3 and 3-2 zone in the championship against Wisconsin once Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow found themselves in deep foul trouble. The zone essentially kept those two players on the court while also seeming to confuse a very methodical Wisconsin Badgers offense. 

Coach K's keen sense of knowing when exactly to adapt in the flow of the game, before the game, before the season, and before he decides what players he'll recruit to plug into his system his second to none.

So let's see, over 1,000 career victories, the most in Men's Division-I history, 13 ACC Tournament Titles, 12 regular season ACC Titles, 14 Elight Eights, and 12 trips to the Final Four.

A legendary resumé like that sounds like a man that should at least 7 National Championships.

So what did a fifth National Championship do for Coach K's legacy? For one, it placed him further ahead of lesser coaches like Billy Donovan and others with two National Championships. That's no disrespect to Donovan or anyone else, but Coach K's resumé speaks for itself and a fifth title raised the standard for being placed in his class of coaches even higher.

What else does a fifth title do? In recent years you may also say that the Blue Devils performances in the tournament are not Coach K-esque performances. Those doubts are now gone. The past 4 seasons for Duke are just history, the present Blue Devils are again champions.

Krzyzewski has won championships with totally different teams, made up of different types of leaders and stars.

The championship teams in the 90's were led by arguably the greatest player in the history of college basketball, Christian Laettner surrounded by a cast of guys like Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.

The 2001 championship on paper was probably Krzyzewski's best team, headlined by five future NBA players including the 2001 (Shane Battier) and 2002 (Jay Williams) Wooden Award winners.

The 2010 team was offensively lethal, with three very experienced Blue Devils all averaging over 17 points per. And though they were one Gordon Hayward miracle away from being an after-thought, the Blue Devils were underrated and was sort of a surprise to be around once the Final Four arrived.

The 2015 team was freshman heavy, led by ACC Player of the Year, Jahlil Okafor and company. This Blue Devils team was only eight scholarship players deep for a significant part of the season. Fellow freshman Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four Tyus Jones helped lead the charge en route to a championship.

Coach K has never had a presence like Okafor inside, a man who commands so much attention inside that his ability frees up open looks for his teammates.

His former teams were predicated on creating their primary offense from the perimeter, heavily living and dying by the three pointer but still winning.

Take it as you may, but I hope you take it as testaments to Krzyzewski's coaching prowess.

A ring for the thumb elevates Krzyzewski into second all-time amongst Men's D-I coaches.

One may make a case for John Wooden over Coach K cause of the hardware differences. Krzyzewski may never reach the double-digit ring plateau. But the two coached in two different eras. The game is much faster and tougher to sustain success in in this era. The talent was not nearly as prevalent in Wooden's era as it has been in the latter stages of Krzyzewski's.

Bottom line is that winning multiple championships in a row like Wooden did seems nearly impossible in the age of the one-and-done, forcing coaches to essentially start over. Seven different schools have won the last 10 championships, only one team has repeated in that span (Florida).

The fact of the matter is that Coach K has proven that he can still get the job done. This year's make up may have just been the hardest Coach K has had to deal with. The suspension of Rasheed Sulaimon forced three freshmen into the starting lineup. Great coaches like Krzyzewski make the most of all they have.

The ability to adapt. The insertion and performance of Duke's least talked about freshman was essential to locking up its fifth championship. Grayson Allen was fearless, smart, brought intensity and he was fearless. His play along with Tyus Jones' daggers fired Mike Krzyzewski up on the sidelines, getting them over the hump, again. Nothing new.

Mike Krzyzewski's accolades are a product of his coaching. He has won with one and done's and experienced squads. He's transcendent, and one of the legends in all of sports that even at the age of 68, has shown no signs of hanging it up.

And, he's already two steps ahead of you.