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Tough As They Come
TIM LAYDEN
April 12, 2010
Led by a rejuvenated coach and embracing a bruising brand of play, Duke seized its fourth national title in Indianapolis—but only after resilient Butler gave the Blue Devils all they could handle in a breathtaking final
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April 12, 2010

Tough As They Come

Led by a rejuvenated coach and embracing a bruising brand of play, Duke seized its fourth national title in Indianapolis—but only after resilient Butler gave the Blue Devils all they could handle in a breathtaking final

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That was the year Duke won its first national championship after four trips to the Final Four under Krzyzewski, an emotional title enabled by an upset of unbeaten UNLV in the national semifinals. For the Krzyzewskis it seemed like yesterday, and it seemed like 100 years ago. On occasion they are asked to reflect on all the wins (868 of them) and all the championships and all the honors, and they find the weight of it almost paralyzing. "When you put everything that's happened in a bucket and just hand it to us, it's too much to take in, it doesn't seem real," says Mickie. "It's almost like when somebody has a billion dollars. I can't process a billion dollars. Too many dollars."

The players sitting behind them on the bus knew all about the symbolic bucket and the symbolic dollars and the singular history of Coach K's teams. Scheyer insists that he remembers Christian Laettner's epic shot against Kentucky in 1992, even though he was only four at the time. Smith was a Louisville fan until Jay Williams joined Duke in '99. Thomas played Coach K's video game when he was a little kid.

And if they didn't know enough about their place in the sport, they would be coldly reminded last Friday morning, when The Indianapolis Star published a story headlined DESPISING DUKE, purporting to detail a rampant dislike of the Blue Devils' program because of its success and perceived smugness. The article included a picture of Krzyzewski that had been doctored in blue ink—with a bull's-eye in the middle of his forehead, among other defacements—as if it had been attacked by Duke-hating graffiti artists. In a press conference that same day, Krzyzewski called the photo "juvenile," and the paper apologized for publishing it.

Later Krzyzewski said, "It was stupid, and it's because we live in a weird world, but I'd rather have it go on me than on Scheyer. I grew up Polish in Chicago. My father had to change his name to Kross, instead of Krzyzewski, so he could get work. People want to take a free shot, I understand that it comes with the territory."

But even if the name on the uniform—and all that goes with it—was the same, this team was very different from the three previous Duke champions. The coach had been reborn, and the players were not good enough to win alone, so they had learned to win together.

Krzyzewski sat on a folding chair in a small locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium a few minutes before midnight following last Saturday's 78--57 semifinal victory over West Virginia, his suit jacket removed but his tie still knotted. As a measure of his place in life, the next day—Easter Sunday—his seven grandchildren, ages four months to 10 years, would be conducting an egg hunt in his hotel suite. "This team could not have achieved what they have because of one individual playing good," he said. "Or even two individuals. It's so great to have a five-guy team. And it's such a good feeling for me to be in their moment."

It is a moment that actually began long before Indianapolis and far from Durham, N.C. In late October 2005 Krzyzewski was named coach of the U.S. Olympic team that would seek to restore the nation's basketball pride in Beijing. He was 58 and four years removed from his last NCAA title. "I was totally against him taking that job," says Mickie. "I thought it was too much. But I was wrong. It's turned out to be one of the best things he's ever done. It rejuvenated him."

That latter-day Dream Team (the Redeem Team, as it was called) included Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony and emphatically returned the gold medal to the U.S. It also gave Krzyzewski a learning experience that he couldn't have found elsewhere.

"Every player on that team is really smart," Krzyzewski said in Indianapolis before the Final Four semifinals. "Every [assistant] coach—"Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and Jim Boeheim—"is really smart. I learned so much, like how not to have complicated game plans or how to strategize certain situations. I learned to listen. I listen more to my own players now. And where else would I go to get that at this point in my career? A clinic? If there's a clinic, I'm probably giving the clinic."

The world that Krzyzewski returned to at Duke in the fall of 2008 was more challenging than the one he left behind in Beijing. In the previous spring the Blue Devils had been taken out in the second round by tough, overachieving West Virginia. Late in that game Mountaineers guard Joe Mazzulla mocked a Duke tradition when he slapped the floor while playing defense.

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