The number 1,000 doesn’t hold a sacred spot in college basketball fans’ hearts the way 755, 300, or 56 might for baseball fans – mostly because 1,000 is nearly incomprehensible. That he’s gotten to 999 victories speaks to Duke Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s longevity as much as it does his unparalleled talent. After amassing 73 wins and 0 NCAA Tournament appearances from 1975-80 at Army, Coach K took over a less-than-powerful Duke program. Before long, the Blue Devils looked strong, then dominant, then dynastic. In 35 seasons since, Duke has 4 National Titles, 8 Title game appearances, 11 Final Fours, and an astounding 30 Tournament appearances.
This Sunday against St. John’s, Coach K takes a first stab at earning win #1,000. Milestone victories are nearly impossible to remember. After it happens, we won’t remember the flow of the game or the final score. Years from now, we likely won’t even remember the setting or the opponent. We will remember Coach Mike Krzyzewski as the first coach to ever reach 1,000 wins; we’ll remember him as a sneering competitor, gold medal winning Olympic Coach, and the greatest college basketball coach of our lifetimes.
Under Coach K, Duke has added as much to the fabric of college basketball and my personal fandom as any team in the country. While a quick twitter search reveals accusations of favoritism or elitism, I hope college basketball fans can put rooting interests aside for a weekend and celebrate this unprecedented accomplishment. It’s impossible to give a comprehensive account of Mike Krzyzewski’s contributions to the game, but here’s a look back at some of Coach K’s most remarkable moments.
Rick Pitino’s top ten Kentucky team gave defending National Champion Duke all it could handle in this 1992 Regional Final. The high-scoring affair, widely considered the greatest college basketball game ever played, culminated in overtime. Grant Hill inbounded the ball 70 feet down the court to a double-teamed Christian Laettner. Laettner dribbled, turned, and drained a shot from the foul line to propel Duke into the Final Four. The Blue Devils would repeat as National Champions with a blow out win over Michigan.
“The Miracle Minute”
The January 27, 2001 Duke vs. Maryland game all but ended after 39 minutes. A solid college basketball rule is 10 points – two minutes. If a team trails by 10 with fewer than 2 minutes, you can change the channel. The #1 Blue Devils trailed 90-80 on the road with 55 seconds on the clock. Superstar point guard Jason Williams drove for a layup then hit a three off a steal to cut the lead to five. In the midst of that small spurt, ESPN’s Mike Patrick declared Duke would “need a miracle.” That miracle took the form of two missed Maryland free throws, another turnover, and a failed buzzer beater. Duke scored 10 points in less than 40 seconds then escaped with an 84-82 victory that you really have to see to believe.
This esoteric nickname for the 2010 National Title game comes from the lovely, and sadly now defunct, Mid Majority. Butler, the underdog of all underdogs, took Duke literally to the last second in Indianapolis. Following a missed free throw, the Bulldog’s Gordon Hayward heaved a last-second prayer from halfcourt and came within millimeters of a National Championship and, what I would contend, the greatest sports moment since the Miracle on Ice. As the ball bounced from the rim, Coach K secured his fourth title in 20 years. He didn’t need the victory to elevate himself or secure his legacy, but the game left yet another indelible mark on college basketball and college basketball fans.
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