GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Mike Krzyzewski gulped back tears as he gazed down the dais at the five players who had refused to let his farewell dance end, orchestrated a frantic comeback to progress to the Sweet 16 with an 85-76 win over Michigan State.
He’d known the finish line was approaching for a year. He selected this path, a farewell tour where he could revisit some of his most memorable events and compose one final chapter worthy of his illustrious 42-year career. The finality of Krzyzewski’s tenure has hung over everything Duke has done this season, with each game serving as another “last something” for Krzyzewski, according to junior Wendell Moore Jr., but with the knowledge that more “lasts” awaited.
All season, Duke struggled.
Duke has struggled to hold onto leads throughout the season. The Blue Devils gave up a nine-point lead to Michigan State on Sunday.
The Duke players have carried the pressure of writing a fitting end to their coach’s remarkable career. At times, it has seemed too heavy in the regular-season finale against North Carolina or the ACC tournament versus Virginia Tech. That weight now threatened to crush them completely.
About Team Building
Building a winning team on the court, in the office, or in life, according to the coach, necessitates people who are prepared to collaborate, sacrifice for one another, and show respect. “Coach, would you kindly work with me on my shot?” Michael Jordan asked him while an assistant coach on the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.” The fact that Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, used the words “coach,” “please,” and later “thanks,” according to Krzyzewski, has something to do with Jordan’s and his teams’ success. He’s the only man who doesn’t have to do any of that and still gets his way.
Moore revealed that he took two road trips.
Moore, Banchero, Roach, Keels, and Williams packed their belongings into a car and traveled to Atlanta twice in July for the annual Peach Jam basketball games, a chance to see their former grassroots teams compete while sitting in the stands.
“We’ve called ourselves ‘The Road Crew’ ever since,” Moore remarked. “At some point [this season], we knew it would come down to us.”
The Road Crew huddled up with five minutes left in Krzyzewski’s career.
“We stared into one other’s eyes and knew we wouldn’t lose,” Moore recalled.
Duke has advanced to the Sweet 16 round. Krzyzewski made it through yet another trial by fire against a deserving opponent. Duke’s players created their mythology in a contest billed as a battle of famous coaches.
The end is near.
It’ll be waiting for your next weekend in San Francisco or at the Final Four in New Orleans. When the music stops, though, this gang of Blue Devils has proven they are worthy of the dance.