"This was the toughest," he said after Duke survived a last-second scare to subdue Butler 61-59 in the national championship, "and the best one."
The Blue Devils never get in on a free pass anymore, even though nine years have come and gone since the last time Coach K took a confetti shower in the final game of the season. No matter. One thing he's learned how to do is wait.
Krzyzewski doesn't demand confirmation of his coaching genius every trip down the floor. He isn't one of those raving sideline acts in constant need of icing down. His insides might be churning, but most of the time his expression is as neutral as the navy blue suit he wore on the sideline Monday night.
Because he knows Duke's time is coming.
That's the difference between building a team and building a program. It's the reason he's won four national championships — a number that puts him ahead of mentor Bobby Knight, ties him with coach Adolph Rupp and leaves him trailing only John Wooden — in his 31 years in charge. When you get good players and prepare them the way Krzyzewski does, you always have a chance.
Butler's Brad Stevens might be the hottest property in the coaching business at the moment, piloting the smallest school (enrollment: 4,200) in the tournament to the biggest game at the tender age of 33. He didn't do it with magic. But he's about to find out how hard it is to keep doing it year in and out.
Stevens is a numbers-cruncher and film junkie who's learned how to exploit every opponent's smallest flaw. Asked to pick out what Krzyzewski — 30 years his senior — does best, Stevens began, "There's thousands of things that go on in a game."
"They packed it back in a little more than I've seen them do," he said. "I may be wrong about that, but that's what I saw."
Stevens had it exactly right. The Bulldogs grabbed 12 offensive rebounds against the Blue Devils in the opening half and turned those into a 10-3 advantage in points. They only got two more offensive rebounds the rest of the way.
"I thought that was key," Krzyzewski said.
Yet that turned out to be only his second-best decision. It was something Coach K didn't do that actually sealed the win.
With Duke leading 61-59 after Brian Zoubek made the first of his two free throws with 3.6 seconds left, Krzyzewski instructed him to miss the second.
"They didn't have any time-outs left," Krzyzewski said. "And if he missed, I thought it would take a miracle shot. Well, it almost did. But we were set up to guard it."
Stevens admitted that maneuver caught him off-guard.
"A little bit," he said.
Maybe because the gamble was so unlike Krzyzewski.
"What the hell, it worked," he said. "There are many things that you do during a ballgame. Whatever the consequences are, you take it. We called time-outs that you know, you wouldn't normally call because of being tired. We left guys in. This was a game where things were not, like, by the book necessarily."
"You had to do things instinctively," Krzyzewski said finally, leaning into the microphone, "because guys were fighting so hard."
The same guy who plans practices down to the second and will walk his players through a backcut a dozen times in practice until the footwork is perfect was struggling to explain why he decided to fly by the seat of his pants in what might have been the biggest game of his career. The strange thing is that Krzyzewski didn't have to explain any of it to his kids.
"We've trusted coach all year," Nolan Smith said. "We've done what he's said all year."
This isn't Krzyzewski's first team to do so. It won't be his last.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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