Duke getting Coach K’s full attention … again

DURHAM, NC — There’s no doubt that Duke’s basketball program has benefited from coach Mike Krzyzewski’s seven-year involvement with USA Basketball.

The exposure he gained has elevated his stature not just among coaches in all sports, but it’s afforded him entry into other avenues of business, academia and leadership.

Krzyzewski, who led Team USA to a pair of Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, was asked by former president George H.W. Bush to replace him as the Honorary Chair of C-Change, a non-profit organization that combines efforts of all cancer-fighting organizations in the United States. C-Change was founded by former First Lady Barbara Bush in the late 1990s.

Krzyzewski is larger than college basketball. He’s larger than sport. It’s impossible to discount the positive effect this has on everything Duke.

Yet, while Krzyzewski, 65, was taking on so many other responsibilities, his program has slipped some. It may just be coincidental, but the facts bear out it might not.

With USA Basketball behind him, however, that trend should change. Krzyzewski is around a lot more now, and that can only be a positive.

“It’s always good to have him around,” senior wing Seth Curry said Friday at Dukes media day at the Emily Krzyzewski center. “He made an emphasis to be around the workouts a lot more this preseason, so it’s good to have him here. He gives us confidence and has a lot of positive energy.”

Energy is something many of Krzyzewski’s recent teams haven’t had at the ends of their seasons. It certainly was a factor when last year’s second-seeded club was knocked out by No. 15 Lehigh in its opening NCAA Tournament game.

Duke had been pretty dominant in the regular season while Krzyzewski was running USA Basketball, but it didn’t translate to NCAA success typical for Duke except in 2010, when the Blue Devils surprisingly won the national championship. Otherwise, Duke went 9-7 in NCAA play during that span, reaching just one Elite Eight in the title year.

Duke twice was eliminated in its first game – also in 2007 by Virginia Commonwealth – and its average margin of defeat in elimination games was 10 points. The Blue Devils were never knocked out by a higher seeded team, either. In fact, Duke’s average seed was 2.1 and the teams it lost to was 7.1.

By contrast, in the eight seasons prior to Krzyzewski taking over USA Basketball, Duke went 25-7 in NCAA play, winning the 2001 national title, advancing to two other Final Fours, and four overall Elite Eights. The Devils’ average margin of defeat was just 4.2 points, and it averaged a 1.3 seed while losing to teams with an average seed of 3.9, and that includes falling to No. 10 Providence in the second round in 1997.

One can argue Duke had better players in the seasons before Krzyzewski took on the USA job, but the results of its NCAA performances are worth noting. And, if one is to play the role of optimist, should bode well for next March and moving forward.

Senior forward Ryan Kelly said this team is already benefiting from their coach being around more as well as sponging off some of what the Hall of Famer learned coaching the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

“Obviously, he’s the greatest coach in the world, and any little thing you can pick up from him makes you a better player,” said Kelly, who’s sporting a beard again this season, though he says he’ll keep it more trimmed than last season.

“On top of that, he is a better coach. He learned a lot with Team USA. And if we can get any of that knowledge, we can become better players. And, it’s pretty cool.”

Krzyzewski will still be involved with USA Basketball, but it won’t be such a time consumer anymore. That’s good for Duke.

You don’t coach a team for 33 years if you don’t love it, get something personal out of it, and have a need for it. Maybe Krzyzewski will enjoy this season more than any other in his career because he’s back to what it was that originally gave him the platform to develop into the well-rounded legend he is.

There’s comfort coaching at Duke, and there’s excitement, too.

“As long as I’m coaching, I know how much that’s done for me,” Krzyzewski said of his USA experiences. “It’s kept me, I’m 65 years old and I’ve been doing this for 38 years. I’m still fresh and excited about what I do, and I think that helped me a lot.”

Implementing much of that with his current personnel will have Krzyzewski as motivated as ever. And that can’t be good news for the rest of the ACC or college basketball.