INDIANAPOLIS -- Long before he got the chance to play in a national championship game, before he was even old enough to play competitive basketball,
"My cousin and I used to play
Such is the extent of Coach K's longevity -- and ubiquity -- that his pixilated image was beaming onto televisions when his current players were still in elementary school. And that was
On Monday night against Butler, the Blue Devils' leader of 30 years will attempt to win his fourth national title, a milestone that would move him ahead of mentor
"He's the best of the best," said Butler coach
Krzyzewski deflects all questions about his own personal milestones, insisting he's solely focused on his players' achievements. The truth is, a victory Monday night won't drastically impact his legacy because it's already a no-brainer Hall of Famer. But while he'd never admit it publicly, winning this trophy with this team -- one most outsiders had long-since discounted -- would be his greatest coaching feat since dethroning UNLV en route to his first crown 19 years ago.
Krzyzewski was 39 when he reached his first national-title game in 1986. Since then he's been through countless changes to the sport's landscape (the three-point line wasn't even instituted until '87) and ever-changing casts of players without ever ceding his perch as the most revered figure in his profession.
"People say he's the same as he's ever been, but that's not true -- he's better," said ESPN analyst
Many would have disputed that prior to this current tourney run. His program had gone a distressing (by Duke standards) five seasons since reaching its last Final Four in 2004, its talent level a step down, by Krzyzewski's own admission, from his great teams of the past.
But over the past couple of years, the 63-year-old has made some subtle changes, many of which can be attributed to his experience coaching USA Basketball's roster of NBA All-Stars to a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. His players didn't notice it as much at the time as they do now.
"Winning the gold medal was good for him, but you can tell he wants to taste another [college] championship," forward
"I do some things differently," Krzyzewski said. "I think I do them better right now than I've ever done them in my life because of the experience that I've had. My passion has not waned, but my experience has grown. So I think that's a good combination."
If you watch closely enough, says Bilas, you can see the Xs and Os impact of his Olympics experience.
"They've put in some different zone looks, and some of that has been from spending so much time around [Olympic team assistant]
Whatever the schemes, Krzyzewski has spent much of the past several years working within the limitations of his existing personnel.
While his current cast of players arrived with much of the same acclaim as their predecessors -- starters Singler, Thomas,
Plagued with a young roster in 2007 and '08, Krzyzewski's teams failed to make it out of the tournament's first weekend for the first time in more than a decade, and the slow development of Thomas and fellow senior
If Duke wins this title, it will have done so the old-fashioned way: through three and four years of player development. While Krzyzewski isn't actively shooing away one-and-done types, he's quite obviously derived satisfaction from watching his current team grow.
"I think the Olympics helped me a lot, getting away from Duke and learning," Krzyzewski said. "While I was doing it, I was saying I have a group now -- there isn't
Krzyzewski has talked repeatedly this week about "enjoying the moment" and experiencing this run through the eyes of his players. At times, he speaks like a grandfather just along for the ride on a trip to Disneyland.
"I get great satisfaction, but I get it a different way [than in the past]," he said. "I really try to get it through my guys, to see how happy they are ... I'm very proud of them. That's a good place to be at this time in my life, you know -- an old guy hanging with some 22-year-old guys who are pretty good guys."
Don't be fooled. Once the ball is tipped Monday night, Coach K will be riding those 22-year-olds (not to mention the officials) just as emphatically and passionately as he did Laettner and
He's worked as hard, if not harder, to get this particular group to that point than he has any in his career.
"I want to win [the title] for him so bad," Thomas said. "He's been great for us all year, he's given us that confidence. We owe it to him."
Krzyzewski presumably views it the other way.