Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski have become coaching odd couple
Mike Krzyzewski beamed as he walked on the Team USA bus after a 156-73 blowout of Nigeria at the London Olympics. Carmelo Anthony had torched the Nigerians for 37 points on 10-of-12 three-pointers in 14 minutes and Krzyzewski couldn't resist a joke.
"Now you know what happens," Krzyzewski said, "when I become the shooting coach."
The Nigeria game followed a day in which Team USA canceled practice and didn't break down film of a blowout win against Tunisia. USA Basketball assistant Jim Boeheim immediately fired back at Krzyzewski.
"No," Boeheim said. "Now you know what happens when we don't practice and don't watch film."
Boeheim's rebuttal cracked up the staff, as it underscored the philosophical differences between college basketball's odd couple. Boeheim and Krzyzewski are as different as their defensive philosophies, images and approaches to the game. Yet as they've gone about their Hall of Fame careers in divergent manners to become the all-time wins leaders in Division I basketball, they've become close friends.
"It's good that they have each other," said Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant. "Only they can relate to what's going on in their lives."
Duke and Syracuse will face each other for the first time in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night, their second meeting as conference rivals after nearly three decades of friendship.
The matchup offers a showcase of their stark contrasts, especially on the defensive end: Duke's slap-the-floor, man-to-man and Syracuse's long-limbed 2-3 zone.
Coach K, 67, operates his program like a CEO, and his military background shines through in his approach. He operates both Team USA and Duke with a bunker mentality. Krzyzewski is known to have meetings to prepare for meetings. He famously studies game film late into the same night of the game itself.
Boeheim, 69, abhors meetings, and he jokes that Syracuse only holds one a year. Boeheim openly admits he's "not a film guy," as he spends many afternoons watching the Golf Channel in his office. While Krzyzewski is fueled by film and preparation, Boeheim's edge comes from feel and intuition.
"I think we complement each other really well," Boeheim said. "I try and stay awake in those meetings. It's a challenge. Sometimes at 2 a.m. on the fourth run through I might nod off. I'm old enough, I can use that as an excuse."
A fitting indicator of their mindsets comes from the end of their bench. Boeheim's system is talent driven, so it's no surprise that one of Syracuse's walk-ons is Nolan Hart, son of successful Albany-area grassroots coach Jim Hart. (Hart earned a scholarship last season). Krzyzewski is always looking at the macro, which is perhaps why the end of Duke's bench features walk-on Nick Pagliuca, the son of Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca.
Yet somehow the two have become so close that they've traveled the world together, supported each other's charitable causes and evolved into perhaps college basketball's two most distinct voices.
Krzyzewski leads all Division I coaches with 978 career victories, and Boeheim ranks second with 945. Friends of both coaches say that neither is close to retiring, meaning they could both stretch well past 1,000 victories.
"They're both very comfortable being miserable when they lose," said P.J. Carlesimo, the former Seton Hall coach who is close to both. "Fortunately they don't lose much."
Before they became two of the top coaches of their generation, they became friends in the late 1980s when Krzyzewski invited Boeheim down for a Duke Children's Classic fundraiser and hosted him at a party at his house.
In 1990, Krzyzewski chose Boeheim and Carlesimo to be on his staff for the Goodwill Games and World Championship. Their differences emerged quickly on the trip to Buenos Aires for the World Championships. Krzyzewski would insist on getting ice cream after dinner and then settle in after midnight to watch three or four hours of film.
"Jim is not a film guy or a shootaround guy," said Carlesimo, now a commentator for ESPN. "So he'd just go to bed. He wouldn't even pretend. He'd say, 'You think watching film is going to help us beat Yugoslavia?' He just didn't believe in that."
After 1990, Boeheim, Carlesimo and Krzyzewski would bond annually on Nike junkets and at Michael Jordan's fantasy camp. Their families became close as well, as Carlesimo said his kids call Boeheim "Uncle Weasel."
USA Basketball has remained the linchpin of Boeheim's and Krzyzewski's friendship. Since Krzyzewski took over in 2005 and named Boeheim his assistant, they've spent weeks together everywhere from Las Vegas to Istanbul to Beijing. And with a 62-1 record, they haven't been miserable together very often.
"They enjoy each other's company as much as coaching the national team," Brey said. "They like to hang out and have a reason to be on the road for 30 days and talk about stuff."
USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said that Krzyzewski has confided to him that his identity as a coach is as much tied to USA Basketball as it is to Duke. And just a few weeks after winning the gold in London, Colangelo said Krzyzewski approached him during the Hall of Fame weekend in Springfield, Mass., and told him he was having USA Basketball withdrawals. Krzyzewski reversed course on his original decision to retire from USA Basketball and will coach Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. Boeheim returned as his assistant in an equally fitting manner, telling Colangelo, "What else would I do during the summer?"
The discussion of the Hall of Fame coaches' differences inevitably leads back to some core similarities. The baseline trait they share is competitiveness, which can be expressed in different ways. Boeheim is known to go on expletive-filled tirades in postgame press conferences, occasionally sparring with a faulty microphone. Krzyzewski's bench language is notoriously foul, even if he cups his mouth with his hand as an attempt for it to be heard by intended parties only.
"As different as they are in philosophies, they are alike in so many ways," said Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who has worked with both on USA Basketball staffs.
Each thrives with familiarity, as both their staffs are composed of former players. (Coach K has Steve Wojciechowski, Jeff Capel and Nate James, while Boeheim has Gerry McNamara, Adrian Autry and Mike Hopkins.)
"They both have their own process in how they do things," said Hopkins, who worked on Krzyzewski's Team USA staffs at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and also the 2010 World Championships. "Both are extremely loyal to what they do and the people around them."
Neither has radically altered each other's basketball orbit. Krzyzewski went to a 2-3 zone for the waning seconds of a friendly against Spain in Madrid in 2010, freezing the Spanish on the final possession to secure Team USA an 86-85 victory. Team USA calls its zone "Orange" in honor of Boeheim, who suggested the tactical switch.
"He said he doesn't have any buildings named after him at Syracuse," Krzyzewski said at the time, "so we named the zone after him."
Boeheim jokes that Team USA hasn't used the zone since, but does admit that he's learned a lot from the years spent coaching with Krzyzewski. It's more than Xs and Os, as Boeheim said that Team USA coaches can call 10 bad plays and LeBron James will still figure out a way to score 10 times.
"It's the mental stuff with Mike," Boeheim said. "That's what you learn from him, mental preparation and motivation. I think he's the best at that."
Until Syracuse ended up in the ACC this season after conference realignment's shotgun adjustments, Boeheim and Krzyzewski only faced off in the ACC-Big East Challenge in 1989 (Syracuse won 78-76) and in the NCAA tournament in 1998 (Duke won 80-67).
Boeheim is now 2-1 against Krzyzewski after an overtime thriller on Feb. 1 that kickstarted a new ACC rivalry with perhaps the best college basketball game of the season. Syracuse outlasted Duke, 91-89, an epic that makes Saturday night one of the most anticipated games of the season.
But when Boeheim and Krzyzewski reunite for USA Basketball this summer, don't expect them to reminisce. The odd couple will forge ahead in their unlikely friendship without much reflection.
"We won't talk about it," Boeheim said. "We won't talk about it this summer. It was a great game and night. It was a spectacular night, I'm sure going down there it's going to be the same."
No matter how great, expect only one coach to be up late breaking down the game tape.