For anyone who takes offense or thinks I am trying to make Coach K’s 1,000th win about myself, all I can do is apologize and ask that you try to understand my perspective. I realize that this is a Duke blog, and today is most definitely a day to celebrate Coach K and Duke basketball.
A tragic event occurred the other day involving someone very close to me, and because I keep playing back prior events, (the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” game never helps) I immediately, unconsciously, and continuously am vaulted into a state of self-reflection. Despite Ethics courses trying to tell me that all actions are inherently selfish, my goal as a person has always been the same: to represent genuine altruism as closely as possible. Yes, I had school work to complete, but if I had any idea what was about to happen…
Sports, and specifically for this post basketball, have always been a safe haven for me, a welcoming hand guiding me away from the stressors of the real world. As a child, I would record games and pause immediately after a shooter released the ball, studying the form, rotation, and balance in order to predict whether the shot would go in. I have always been a basketball nerd, and this was entertainment for me. One day my friend and I were outside shooting after school, and I asked him who his favorite college basketball team was.
“Michigan! I love the Fab 5, and they play the Pukies this weekend. Have you ever seen Duke’s coach? He looks like a rat!”
The anger he spoke with intrigued me, and I wanted to see what this man who reminded my friend of a rodent was all about. I watched Duke play Michigan, and I loved the style and grace that the Blue Devils played with. Coach K was in total control of his team at all times. I grew up with the Redskins, the Orioles, and the Wizards (then the Bullets), but what rule stated that I had to support a local college team? None that I could think of. And thus, I formed a lifelong passion for Duke basketball, led by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
In the basketball sense, Coach K is a master. His track record at Duke and with the United States National Team speaks for itself. Oh, and by the way, he just won his 1,000th college game. The billions of articles flooding the internet this week was a constant reminder that this was about to happen. (Dana O’Neil’s piece was on another level, though). Yet as a coach, Krzyzewski is just a mortal to me. I have no problem analyzing and disputing his decisions. After all, this is basketball, not rocket science.
As a man, though, I hesitate to ever question Coach K. The dignity with which he conducts himself is a feat which I constantly strive for, yet rarely succeed at. He holds himself accountable, and takes pride in his ability to adapt to all types of people in a group or individual setting. Is he perfect? Hell, no. He would be the first to admit that. But he has a rare skill to gain the trust of everyone he interacts with (in and out of sports), because they know everything he will ever say and do is with their best interests in mind. And if you think this is only because of his win-loss record, ask Jay Bilas why he decided to attend Duke. Trust, and this was before Coach K had proven anything.
I have always struggled with trust issues. Some of it is nature, but much of it is nurture. The last few years have been spent coming to terms with this and starting over from square one, both personally and professionally. It has worked wonders, and though in school at a much later age than most, I am at peace with where my life is headed. Now my goal is to be there for others. I want to be trusted, but not for any selfish reasons. My desire comes from wanting people to know that in a world which can be alienating and cruel, they can depend on me. There are two problems with this. First is that the way I have just explained this makes me sound like I am trying to be a superhero, which I am far from. Second, there is a fine line between wanting to be trusted and needing to be trusted; another reason why the recent tragedy has cut me so deep.
Leadership comes naturally to Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and I envy this. I taught tennis for many years, and gained the trust of all age groups. But the trust he has is different, as his players look to him for much more than basketball. I recently read that JJ Redick still talks to Coach K once per week about all aspects of life. The relationship each Duke player builds with Coach K lasts forever, which is not something to be taken lightly. Even he has a support system, though. Besides an inner family consisting of a wife and children, his Duke family is there to help in every way necessary. How many head coaches have had a staff of all former players for such a long time?
What can I learn from this? How about that a leader as amazing as Mike Krzyzewski can’t take on too much by himself. The final decision involving everything in the program is always his, but is discussed as a group. For example, experimenting with zone defense this season was pondered until sunrise by the coaching staff, and I would bet that all voices were heard in the conversation. There have been players who haven’t worked out under Coach K at Duke for many reasons, many which fans aren’t privy to. But such is life, and he goes above and beyond to try to help all players reach their peak.
I cannot expect myself to be perfect, and this realization comes full force when watching one of the greatest leaders of this generation fail every so often. I did everything I could to help someone, and it wasn’t enough. Do I have regrets? Of course. But sometimes life deals you a crappy hand, and you have to pick up the pieces. Overthinking this will break me.
In what has been a rough week, I turned to sports today to feel good. I saw a great leader command his squad to victory. I watched a man who I’m sure has failed numerous times in his life, only to get back up and thrive. As they say, one step back to move two steps forward. On a day in which the face of men’s college basketball won his 1,000th game, I am happy for Coach K, but THRILLED for Mike Krzyzewski.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you are depressed, calling this number is a sign of strength, not weakness!