Butters helped him see once again that just because you can do better, it doesn't mean you've done badly. Years from now, looking back, where will Krzyzewski have counted most? With 29-year-olds in Boston or 19-year-olds in Durham? "I realized I'm not just a basketball coach," he says. "And if I were in the NBA, that's what I'd be. I want to be a teacher and work with kids and see them grow up. What's neat is that I can win a lot of basketball games while I'm doing that.
"The game is important, unbelievably important, because it's people stuff. But whether or not we beat Vegas isn't unbelievably important. If we do it, it's usually the result of some really neat things. If you've given everything and lost, you should feel good. After we lost to Vegas by 30, I had a hard time getting people to understand that we didn't need psychiatric care. Two years later, looking back, what I thought then is still true. We were just a year early."
Last spring as Duke moved through the tournament field, Krzyzewski started to play a mental game. He would incant to himself Duke's record if the Blue Devils were to defeat the opponent at hand. O.K., we win this one and we're 31-7. It was a device—O.K., this one makes us 32-7—to keep from prematurely dwelling on the grail of a title. "As a result I portrayed a more confident image to the team," Krzyzewski says. "I knew I couldn't be the weak link for this group." One by one by one, he took the games. He was so disciplined that not until the summer, when he and Mickie had repaired to Season's End, their beach house at the North Carolina shore, did the vista of what the team had done open fully. It struck him while reading the paper. Suddenly he put it down, turned to Mickie and said, "We won it! We really won it!" He grabbed a bottle of wine and his bride—first choice now—and together they watched tape of the six NCAA victories.
Seeing Laettner at the line with 12 seconds to play reminded him anew. As a freshman Laettner had clanged a one-and-one late in a regular-season game against Arizona, with Duke trailing by two. "He shot it long," Krzyzewski remembers. "He wanted it too much." But it wasn't Laettner's reaction that lingered most vividly from that Arizona game. It was the reaction of Danny Ferry, whom Laettner was being groomed to replace. "Danny had so much invested in that game," says Krzyzewski. "He was a senior. If Arizona won, Sean Elliott would get a leg up on Danny for Player of the Year. Yet Danny's first move was to go up to Christian and tell him it was all right, so Christian wouldn't feel he lost the game. What Danny did was a selfless act, a great act. And I'm sure that's why Christian made those free throws against Vegas."
You all right? If anyone were to ask that question of college basketball these days, the game's only truthful answer would be that it's ailing. Yet Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are college hoops' great hope, the team that's "doing what has to be done," as Knight puts it, "and doing it with college students."
That's What They Do and How They Do It. As for Who He Is, well, that may depend on when you catch him: on whether he's cutting down a net or having a good cry or screwing up today so he can hammer somebody tomorrow. But count on Krzyzewski to fall somewhere between old-style Chicago ward heeler and New Age campus faith healer, between laggard and outrider—nothing more, nothing less, than exactly what the game needs right now.