He would give his young men fatigues and boots and rifles and teach them how to swim. That night's losers—Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson—would go 37-3 as seniors in 1986, and Duke wouldn't lose to the Cavaliers again for seven years.
Duke basketball has come to represent the wishful public-service-announcement version of college athletics. It is the most collegiate of programs, only partly because virtually all players who pass through Durham wind up graduating. Duke's recruiting is so efficient that those who study such things liken it to a fraternity rush. And when the team gets around to playing basketball—it's What They Do, after all, even if What They Do often gets lost in the gushy praise for How They Do It—the offense has no rigid roles to hold players back.
Nor is it great theater when Krzyzewski coaches. Histrionics like those of many sideline dandies would distract him from seeing inside his players' heads. When Duke visited Boston University in January '92, the overmatched Terriers did the only thing they could do: Hammer the Blue Devils inside. Krzyzewski noticed irritation in Laettner's body language. "So, you think you're too good to get fouled?" he asked his star. Laettner shaped up.
DUKE HAS BEEN HELD UP SO CONSPICUOUSLY AS A redoubt of virtue that, to some cynics, the team has fallen off the good end of the scale and resurfaced at the other end as repellently unctuous. But paradoxically, "easier" young men such as Duke's present certain difficulties. "A kid should have a chance to find out who he is, but a lot come here having had it determined for them," says Krzyzewski. "Say a player comes into my office and says he's confused because he just made love to a girl for the first time. He feels incredibly good. He feels incredibly guilty. See, I don't expect them to be perfect. I wasn't. There may be people who love them more than I do, but there aren't people who love them the way I do."
Notice how little this conforms to the pedagogy of the Bob Knight School of Coaching. "I value Coach Knight very much," says Krzyzewski. "He's been a tremendous influence on me, mostly in good ways. But to keep bringing him up doesn't give credit to the others—my mom, my brother, my wife, my AD, my assistants, my buddies."
The press has nursed a need to force the curvilinear student into the mentor's square hole, and that's why the episode with the student newspaper still comes up: In January 1990, The Chronicle indulged in a tabloid sports-section gimmick, assigning a "midterm grade" to each Blue Devil. Krzyzewski called the responsible reporters and editors into the locker room and, in front of the team, delivered a blunt eight-minute dressing down. One of the students captured Krzyzewski's remarks on tape, and when the real-world Durham Morning Herald published a transcript, the coach became the consensus heavy.
Distraught, Krzyzewski broke down in Butters's office. Duke thrilled him because he believed every student was there to learn and every opportunity to teach was worth seizing. "I wasn't trying to control the press," he says. "I just wanted to say, 'Here are the kids you're grading. When you write, you're writing about people.' "
It seems remarkable, given the apparently perfect match of man and place, that the Chronicle incident drove Krzyzewski to consider leaving Duke. To be sure, other disappointments in '89-90 contributed to his dissatisfaction. For the first time some of his players stumbled academically. A loss to North Carolina shook him too. He could deal with the whupping UNLV would dole out a month later, a simple matter of getting beaten. But against UNC he felt his players had quit on him. When the Boston Celtics came calling over the summer, he gave them a listen.
BUTTERS HELPED HIM SEE ONCE AGAIN THAT JUST because you can do better doesn't mean you've done badly. Years from now, looking back, where will you have counted most? With 29-year-olds in Boston or 19-year-olds in Durham? "I realized I'm not just a basketball coach," Krzyzewski says. "I want to be a teacher and see kids grow up. The game is important because it's people stuff. But whether or not we beat Vegas isn't unbelievably important. 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, what I thought then is still true. We were just a year early."
As Duke moved through the '91 NCAA tournament field, Krzyzewski played a mental game. He would incant to himself the Blue Devils' record if they were to defeat the opponent at hand, to keep from prematurely dwelling on the grail of a title. He was so disciplined that not until 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 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.