With memories of a Broadway show, Duke continues to thrive
A Broadway theater isn't a typical venue to prepare a college basketball team for a tournament run. But Mike Krzyzewski didn't become the all-time winningest D-I men's coach by following the same script as everyone else.
Just before the start of this season, Coach K took the Blue Devils to New York, where they interacted with cadets at West Point, visited Ground Zero and held a shootaround at Harlem's Rucker Park. Each stop was intended to teach his players something about attention to detail, sacrifice and gratitude.
They also took in "Motown: The Musical." The show tells the story of the music mogul Berry Gordy, a boxer who transitioned to show business and helped launch the careers of stars like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gay. Krzyzewski knew his players would relate to the music. But the 67-year-old coach had more in mind than entertainment when he chose the show.
"I have a very young team," Krzyzewski told SI.com. "I wanted them to see excellence in a number of different areas. 'Motown' is a display of teamwork and pride. Eight times a week those people go on stage and put it all on the line. If one person messes up, it messes up everyone. So everyone has a responsibility to do his part."
Duke has continued to learn that lesson throughout the season. The Blue Devils hope that the selflessness they've developed will help them overcome a streaking NC State Wolfpack team, which is hungry for another upset tonight in the ACC semifinals. But Duke almost didn't advance to this round.
On Friday, a day when North Carolina and Syracuse were upset in the ACC tournament, Duke survived a similar fate by hanging on to defeat Clemson 63-62. And no one put it all on the line more than Rodney Hood. Ill and vomiting, he was forced to leave the game early in the second half. But Hood returned to the game. And trailing by 1 with 3.4 seconds to play, Hood stepped to the line in a one-and-one situation and hit both free throws to win the game.
"He was throwing up at the start of the (second half)," Krzyzewski said. "We had to take him out. Rodney's one of the great kids to coach. I wish we had him for more than one year. The growth that he's had in this year is terrific and it's because he wants to be coached and take responsibility."
Krzyzewski has the same sentiments toward Jabari Parker -- he has made great strides; he loves to be coached; and Krzyzewski wouldn't mind having him around for one more year. Although Hood and Parker seemed destined to wear NBA uniforms next year, they have put Duke in position to go deep into the tournament this year.
Barefoot and tired, the two stars sat side-by-side at their lockers following the Clemson game and reflected back on the preseason visit to Broadway and the impact it had on them as basketball players.
"It was my first time to see a musical," Parker said. "And I couldn't get over how perfectly everyone on stage worked like a single unit. It helped me see how good we could be if we learned to play as one."
"Initially we had a hard time comprehending that," Hood said. "But seeing how they performed together was a learning experience that has left a lasting impression. Everybody on that stage was on the same page and clicking at the same time. Now we got it down."
"The show," Parker added, "taught us that hard work over a sustained period of time results in cohesion and fluency out on the court."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Blue Devils is how well they function as a teams. On a team with two stars, there is no ego.
That is saying a lot; especially since one's stars brightness often eclipses the other. On almost any other team in the country, Hood would be the top player and the center of attention. But at Duke he often plays second fiddle to Parker. Yet there is no competition between them and no resentment on the part of Hood.
"None at all," Hood said. "I understand my role on this team. Jabari is 1-A and I am 1-B. Everybody knows Jabari's the most talented player on the team. The things he does on the court are unbelievable. I'm just here to support him and step into the leadership role whenever he needs a breather."
Hood's selflessness playing alongside Parker has set the tone for his teammates. Duke has gelled into a blue-collar group that has taken on an assembly-line mentality where everyone has a certain job to fill.
Senior guard Tyler Thornton has embraced the role of defensive stopper. "We have some great scorers on this team," Thornton said. "My job is to make plays on the defensive end. That's what I do to help us win. I take pride in that role."
Marshall Plumlee is like the team custodian, cleaning up on the glass and never afraid to get his hands dirty when there is a scrap for a loose ball. "My role is to bring energy and physicality," Plumlee said. "I try to impact the game with my defense and my rebounding. And I know my teammates appreciate my contribution. That's good enough for me."
Guard Rasheed Sulaimon, the emotional spark of the team, doesn't always start. But he will assume any role Coach K gives him. "First and foremost on offense we have to recognize that we have two NBA players in Jabari and Rodney," Sulaimon said. "So the defense always keys on them. I have to be ready off the ball for the shot or to create shots for others off the drive."
Throughout the season, Sulaimon has been the one who takes big shots when the game is on the line. In Duke's first game against Syracuse, he hit one of the most clutch shots of the 2013-14 season, a three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
"Coach has a lot of confidence in me," he said. "When someone of the caliber of Coach K tells me he believes in me, he makes me believe in myself even when I don't believe in myself. So in situations when the game is on the line and he calls my number I shoot with confidence."
It's been nearly five months since Krzyzewski took his team to New York City in hopes of preparing them for a run in March. "We know what we have to do," Parker said. "Coach has prepared us. We know what it means to play as one. We know what it means to show up every night and leave everything on the floor."