Back and blue
Duke, Krzyzewski resurgence nearing completion
Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 10:37 PM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Trajan Langdon will end his career as the best 3-point shooter in Duke history. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will remember him for something more important.
Langdon is the lone connection between the Blue Devils' lowest point and what they hope will be their highest in Monday night's national championship game against Connecticut.
"In some respect it would be a great honor. I was part of one of the worst teams in Duke history and now I'm part of one of the best teams in Duke history," the senior from Alaska said.
"It can be a good feeling to be talked about being a bridge from the down point to getting back to where Duke has been," Langdon added.
With Duke's great success since the mid-1980s, it's easy to forget the 1994-95 team, which went 13-18 and finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a school-worst 2-14 mark.
Krzyzewski left in the middle of that season to have back surgery. He wasn't too proud of what he left behind.
After consecutive national titles in 1991-92, Krzyzewski's demands began to spiral out of control. His off-court commitments increased tenfold and team priorities lagged behind. Krzyzewski also admitted making some mistakes recruiting players.
"When we went on hard times I think it was my responsibility because I don't think we showed the care for the program," Krzyzewski said. "We didn't evaluate like I had normally evaluated it because of [a lack] of time."
Because of Krzyzewski's success and importance on campus, no one from the Duke administration stepped in to help.
"There was an assumption that we just were going to do what we did," he said. "What I've tried to do in the last five years is to get Duke University and everyone to say, 'Hey, take a look at it. What do we need facility-wise? Is this good enough? Don't assume that we're just going to do it. Let's all be a part of this.'"
The 52-year-old Krzyzewski also tried to return too soon from his surgery, which led to physical and emotional exhaustion. He soon realized he would have to delegate some responsibilities and cut his schedule so he could devote more time to his team.
His first move was to hire former players Quin Snyder, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson for his coaching staff, and begin recruiting athletes that shared the same tireless work ethic he previously demanded.
"That next year with me being back, people immediately said, 'Oh, they should be good.' There was an unrealistic view of what we had to do by everyone around. It was tougher," Coach K said.
The Blue Devils slowly worked their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture, going 18-13 in 1995-96 before using a four-guard lineup to win the first of three straight ACC titles the next season.
"That year jump-started us," Krzyzewski said of the 24-9 team of 1996-97. "I started seeing some things in my team that were really good."
Krzyzewski and his staff then put together the missing pieces, landing one of the nation's best recruiting classes that included Elton Brand, William Avery, Shane Battier and Chris Burgess.
"That gave us a talent base," the coach said. "We had already started doing the character things that needed to be done and the work ethic things. That combination has worked out pretty well."
Brand remembers Krzyzewski's recruiting pitch. It wasn't a sales job at all.
"He actually told me, 'I can't promise you anything. I can't promise you you will play a minute. But I can promise you if you work hard and you play to your capabilities there is a possibility you can play,'" Brand said. "That's what I got. I didn't get, 'You'll start.'"
Still, Brand saw an opportunity to play for one of the game's best coaches and for a program that was on the verge -- once again -- of greatness.
"The key is to get talented kids where it doesn't become work, that's just what you do," Krzyzewski said. "It's their investment in the game, they already come to you with a certain level of commitment they do every day, then you have a chance to get them higher."The highest level could very well come Monday night with a record 38th victory and third championship this decade.
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