Saturday, March 14, 2009

The most critical decision for me becoming who I am

NPR has a good piece today on Coach K and his upbringing in inner-city Chicago where his "father was an elevator operator and his mother cleaned offices to make sure her sons had everything they needed. "

Coach Krzyzewski called his belated decision to attend the U.S. Military Academy and play for Bobby Knight a "critical" turning point for his life.

At first, Coach K turned down Coach Knight's offer to play at West Point. But his parents felt it was the wrong move and talked about it -- in their native Polish -- for two weeks.

"I'd just hear it and finally I said, 'OK, I'll go.' And we let Coach Knight know, and — I don't know how I got in at that time, but I did," Krzyzewski recalls. "That was the most critical decision for me becoming who I am."

Bob Knight, who would later gain fame at Indiana University, was his coach at Army. It was also Knight who hired Krzyzewski to be his graduate assistant at Indiana. Later on, Knight recommended his former player for a coaching job at West Point, and then at Duke in 1980.

Now in his 30th season at Duke, Coach K's first few seasons were rough as he "taught his team to play man-to-man defense, rather than relying on the zone defense" and recruited "the kind of players he wanted." [In 1982, Duke went 10-17; in '83 the Devils were 11-17.]

"My first year at Duke was the hardest year for any of us," says Jay Bilas, who played for Coach K from 1983-86, "because there was a lot of talk that Coach K was going to get fired."

"I think if Coach K had that start in his career now, he wouldn't have made it," Bilas says. "I think the microwave culture we've got now, where coaches are fired after a couple of years, [in] a few years he wouldn't have survived — and look what everybody would have missed."