Duke makes its temporary transition from Coach K to Capel
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke coaches are now doing what they repeatedly have asked backup players to do this season: step up when stars are absent.
With Mike Krzyzewski stepping away for a few weeks to have back surgery, the Blue Devils will be under the guidance of Jeff Capel.
The situation isn't entirely unfamiliar to Capel, a former Duke guard and veteran college coach who had to fill in for one game a year ago when Krzyzewski became ill before a trip to Georgia Tech and led the Blue Devils to a win - though that victory, and the wins and losses during this leave of absence, will go on Krzyzewski's record.
Capel will make his 2017 debut as the acting head coach Saturday when Boston College visits.
''We've dealt with a lot of adversity already this year, and throughout the season, guys have stepped up,'' Capel said Thursday. ''That's what we have to do right now. Everyone has to step up.''
That's been the theme for Duke, which didn't have three immediate-impact freshmen to start the season, but got them all back just in time to hand guard Grayson Allen an indefinite suspension - which turned out to be for one game - for tripping an opponent for the third time in 11 months. His return came in Krzyzewski's last game before taking his leave.
Capel insisted he doesn't view this as an audition to become the permanent successor to Krzyzewski, the winningest men's coach in Division I history.
Krzyzewski turns 70 next month, and the reality is, someday Duke will have to replace him. The 41-year-old Capel - who went 175-110 in nine years at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma before returning to his alma mater to become Krzyzewski's most trusted assistant - certainly would be an obvious candidate when that time comes.
Especially if he can keep the eighth-ranked Blue Devils (13-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) rolling while Coach K is away.
''I haven't thought about it because I've never imagined a day of (Krzyzewski) not coaching, of not being the coach at Duke,'' Capel said. ''I want to be a head coach, one day, again. But it's not something that I'm, like, in a hurry to do. When the right opportunity comes and if they want me, then I'll do it, but right now my thought and focus is on our guys.''
Northwestern coach Chris Collins played and coached alongside Capel at Duke, and they were teammates during the 1994-95 season Krzyzewski missed the final 19 games due to another back surgery and exhaustion and the Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament for the only time since 1983.
Collins said Capel has a proven track record of success, adding that his reputation as a recruiter has ''overshadowed'' his skills when it comes to Xs and Os. Capel was the lead recruiter for the future NBA players - Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones - who led Duke to its last national title in 2015.
''This is not a guy who has no experience,'' Collins said.
This temporary transition to Capel marks the latest development in a hectic week at Duke, where the news of Krzyzewski's leave of absence on Monday was followed two nights later by the abrupt end of Allen's suspension.
What followed for the Blue Devils was their most complete performance of the season - a 110-57 rout of Georgia Tech on Wednesday night - that left them feeling optimistic heading into this period of uncertainty.
''We believe in the other coaches to do a great job, and we're just going to continue to grow from this,'' guard Luke Kennard said.
Krzyzewski said afterward that he postponed his surgery for a few days ''just to move to this point where we could get this moving the right way.'' Whether intentional or not, by reinstating Allen before taking his leave, Krzyzewski shielded Capel from the possibility of being asked when the preseason AP All-America guard would return.
Now Capel can keep the focus squarely on coaching a roster that's relatively complete - even if the coaching staff isn't.
His body of work as Duke's leader is just one game, but Capel did make it work last year at Georgia Tech : Given the latitude to tinker with the rotation, he went deeper into the bench than Krzyzewski usually does, extracting quality minutes from role players Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic in that 80-71 victory.
''That's where I think Jeff Capel might shake it up a little bit,'' ESPN analyst and former Duke guard Jay Williams said. ''Coach K ... he knows what he's doing, but if you watch ... he stays within that sweet spot (of a seven-man rotation) and you might see Jeff Capel do things differently.''
That's fine with Duke fans, as long as the results are the same.
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