Duke returns to Indianapolis, the place where coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils won the title in 2010. They are returning to the Final Four for the first time since that victory. Duke, one of three top seeds in the Final Four along with Kentucky and Wisconsin, will face East Regional champion Michigan State in the national semifinals on Saturday. Coach K had this to say at his press conference yesterday.
DAVE WORLOCK: Good morning, everyone. We look forward to having everyone in Indianapolis later in the week. We’re going to start today’s call with coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach, congratulations on making another Final Four. We look forward to having you in Indianapolis, as well.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Thank you very much.
DAVE WORLOCK: At this time we’d like to go ahead and start with questions.
Q. Mike, it occurred to me this is the Mount Rushmore of current basketball active coaches. If you weren’t a coach, have you ever considered what you’d be doing? I thought it would be fun to consider what you’d be doing otherwise.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, I’d be a teacher. That’s what I’ve wanted to be my whole life.
Q. What kind of teacher?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I hope a good one (laughter). I’d work at it, let’s put it that way.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the three turnovers in yesterday’s game. Can you put into perspective the ability to play with that kind of composure, take care of the ball on such a big stage.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, that’s a good question. Really wanted to keep points in the game because we had a hard time scoring. Our threes saved us, the fact that we didn’t give them a lot of run?outs.
Two of the turnovers, one of them was a charge, and another one was right at the end of the game when we didn’t take a shot, the shot clock violation.
I don’t think we’ve had a better game this year as far as valuing the basketball. That helped keep them out of transition. Certainly with some of our offensive rebounding, especially by Amile, it got us a few extra possessions. Gonzaga played very good defensively.
Q. What qualities does a player who is good in the clutch have to have, someone like Christian Laettner, for instance?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, there aren’t very many people like Christian Laettner because he was a fabulous talent in addition to being clutch. He wanted to be in those moments.
But a clutch player does not have to be as talented. It doesn’t have to be a star player. A clutch player can be somebody who can make a defensive stop, somebody who watched the ball and a lot of times is not one of your top two or three scorers, but all of a sudden can make a play, whether it be with a score or a rebound.
Usually a clutch player is really smart in pressure situations, and as a result is immersed in the moment that is going on. I would say, like a player for us in the past, Battier was that type of player.
On our team, Winslow has come up clutch. Our two guards have really been great in handling the ball, shooting free throws in pressure situations.
Q. Is that something a coach tries to develop in a particular player or just tries to use once it sort of emerges?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: A little bit of both. But mostly it’s in the kid himself, then you should recognize it, try to make sure that kid is out on the court during those times and in a position where he can make a play.
If it’s a scorer, obviously you’re going to do some things to get him the ball. If you’re being full court pressed, trying to make sure he’s the one that receives it and gets fouled.
Tell the player you have confidence in him in that situation. Most of it is on the player and then the coach to make sure that he’s trying to use it, he’s trying to use that talent. It’s really a talent.
Q. Amile said back in October that the dynamic of your team, even with so many freshmen, was unlike any other. How much managing have you had to do this year compared to other seasons?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: You still manage the same, but you’re not managing egos and attitudes, you’re managing X’s and O’s, how to use guys and develop them, how they complement one another.
This group has really been like brothers from the beginning in July. They have not posed any problems for me. Over the last couple months, they’ve gotten maturity through play, the freshmen have developed where they have a comfort level in playing with the rapidity we have to play big?time games. That’s a learned experience. They’ve learned that.
But they’ve become closer and closer. It’s really been an amazing group of kids to work with.
Q. Coach, you often try to downplay all of your accomplishments when talking about your team, saying it’s the first time for them no matter how many times you’ve experienced something. You seem to have really enjoyed that and lived it, this year especially. Maybe it’s some of just what you were talking about how easy it is to be around these guys. Do you have to do something before the season or during the season to reset yourself with each team and try to live it for the first time?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I think you have to get on their page, in their moment. With this group, that’s been easy.
But I usually don’t have a hard time doing it. Sometimes it’s hard to find the page because they’re a little bit complex, some teams, to work with.
But this group has been easy. It’s a lot more fun living in the present than trying to build some kind of record or live in the past.
These kids, to be in their moment, is so much more fun. So I’ve really loved the year. I was worried going into the year because of when USA Basketball ended. That was pressure because Madrid, winning the World Championship, middle of September. I was worried, I hope I have the gas, the energy.
It hasn’t been a stretch at all. In fact, I think I’m as energized now as I’ve ever been at the end of the year.
Q. Mike, you’re obviously familiar with Izzo and Michigan State. I’m curious your thoughts about the Spartans this season. I’m curious to get inside your head as to what you think about this year’s team.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, first of all, I would really start out with Tom. I mean, Tom is as good as there is. Not just a coach, but he’s a great guy. He’s a terrific friend. I think we have an amazing relationship.
Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do. They don’t have a team; they have a program. As he develops each team, I don’t know what the timeframe of it is until that group understands what the program is about, whether it be offense, defense or just character?wise, but they’re going to keep improving because it’s a program. It’s a program of excellence.
They’re really good. That doesn’t surprise me at all. They’re going to show up every game with a great game plan, with a toughness and an unselfishness to play that they’re not going to beat themselves.
That’s who Tom is. That will be him for as long as he coaches because that’s what he does. That’s why he’s so good.
Q. In regards to Jahlil, how important is it for you to run through him, especially given Michigan State not having a dominant big man?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, Jah has been very important for us through the entire year. No matter how many points he scores, he’s the focus of attention. He’s the top person on every scouting report. People are going to double?team him or triple?team him or figure out how to defend him. As a result, it opens things up. Whether he’s scoring or not, it opens things up for the other guys.
His stats, they’re really good, outstanding stats, don’t really tell the story of how important he is for us because he creates better stats for everybody else on the team.
Q. Obviously John Calipari is going to figure out whether he got in the Hall of Fame this week. Seeing what he’s done over the last several years and his career as a guy who has been there, does he belong?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, that’s why he’s up for it. People aren’t up for it unless people believe that he belongs. I think whether it happens this year, it will happen. Just like with Bo Ryan, they belong. Tom.
Look, they’re all really the best of the best. It’s really an honor for me to be in a Final Four with those three programs and those three coaches because they’re all really good guys and they’ve all understood the commitment to excellence that a program needs to make.
Q. Mike, this group of freshmen in some respects, especially to an outside observer, it almost seems like instant oatmeal with them. You could just roll the ball out on the floor and they’d play. What were some of the growing pains that you encountered with them throughout the course of the season?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I know you didn’t mean it that way, but it sounds like a question I usually get for USA Basketball. You just roll it out, and the Gasols and Ginobilis of the world will just let you win.
Obviously you don’t just roll the ball out. There’s certainly a level of learning that every freshman has to go through. These guys have talent, but they also have a willingness to learn. They’ve really learned.
You know, for about a two?and?a?half week stretch, Justise was averaging three and a half points a game, Tyus has had poor games, Jah has pretty much been consistent.
But the environment in which they’re in, they have an unselfish, terrific environment for them to grow. It’s led by Quinn Cook. He and the upperclassmen have created an environment where the freshmen feel like they’re not freshmen, that they’re just a basketball player.
So all four of these guys have gotten better, and they’ve worked hard at it. They’ve worked really hard at it. They’re going to work hard at it this week because we can still get better.
It’s still a group that’s played 37 games. They haven’t played 100, they haven’t played 110 or whatever. They’ve played 37 games. They’ve done a magnificent job thus far.
Q. Say, for example, Jahlil, if there’s a game where maybe he had a double?double, but you looked at the film, instead of 18?12, he could have had 25?20, how much would you challenge him on that level, to reach his potential, not necessarily what is satisfactory to a lot of other people?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don’t know if the word ‘challenge’ is the right word. I think you try to teach, motivate, show them how to get more, if there is more to get.
Again, they’re learning. Sometimes players put limits on themselves based on their previous limits. In other words, this is how much I used to score, and once you get there, I’ve done a good job. A lot of it’s psychological, these limits that people put on themselves.
What you try to do, it’s not so much challenging so much as showing them that you can do more. You don’t just do that after a game, you try to do that during a game.
It’s not just the freshmen, it’s any player. I mean, that’s part of teaching and that. I hate to use the word ‘challenge’ because it seems like then you’re fighting somebody or you’re doing this incredible face?to?face encounter to get him to do something, to get a player to do something. Most of it is not that. Most of it is learning to change limits and how you do that.
Q. Mike, Karl?Anthony Towns seems to be captivating a lot of imaginations. Some suggest he’s the best freshman big man in your sport. I’m not asking you to compare him and Okafor.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Thank you.
Q. You’ve seen enough to be pretty sure it’s your guy.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, you are asking me that then (laughter)? What you just said you asked, though.
Q. You’re right.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: What I would tell you is, I don’t watch Kentucky very much because we haven’t played them. You all watch these other teams more than we do, or more than I do. I try to watch the teams that we’re going to play against.
I know our league. I really try to know the teams we just played, Utah and Gonzaga. But I’m not watching Kentucky like I would if we were going to play them.
I know Towns. We recruited him. He played for the Dominican team. He’s a great player, great young man, beautiful family. He’s going to be a terrific pro.
Where he stands in comparison to anybody, who knows. The people who do that are the people who are called professionals who are going to draft. But he’s going to be a terrific player. Based on what I’ve seen of him as a youngster, what I know of his character, then the little bit that I’ve watched Kentucky play, he’s terrific.
Q. A lot of people have compared your on?the?court success with John Wooden. Basketball has evolved since the ’60s and ’70s, but is there anything directly or indirectly that you’ve learned from Coach Wooden that you have incorporated into your basketball philosophy?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I think all coaches learn from previous outstanding coaches. I mean, I’m sure people in every walk of life do that, in business, in teaching, in government hopefully, they learn from the people who preceded them.
Coach Wooden will go down as the greatest winner, greatest coach of all time. No one will ever match the amount of titles he has. So you learn from that.
One of the main things is how to handle any level of success you had. I always thought he handled it with great dignity. I always thought that his players loved playing for him. They played like a cohesive unit.
I also saw in his teams the ability to adapt. Everyone would talk about Alcindor and Walton. Half of his championships he didn’t have those two guys. His first championship, the 2?2?1 press was with a guy named Erickson back there who was a pretty good athlete, Goodridge, was one of the more beautiful things to watch in basketball.
So you learned from that, just like I’ve learned from Coach Knight, Coach Iba, Coach Newell, some of the great, great coaches in the history of our game.
DAVE WORLOCK: Coach Krzyzewski, thank you so much.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Thank you for having me on.