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Sport Coach K readies for final bow at Cameron Indoor: 'Mine for 42 years, but it's Duke's forever'

15:10  02 april  2022
15:10  02 april  2022 Source:   usatoday.com

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DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski is ready to let go.

Duke's 75-year-old coach says he returned for one more season for continuity — so that the program he turned into a national power didn't stray from a path he bushwhacked with fierce intensity over the last 42 years.

Jon Scheyer was announced as his successor the day after Krzyzewski told the world he'd step away from the game after the conclusion of the 2021-2022 season.

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He may not openly admit it, but Coach K wouldn't, no, couldn't retire after last year's team stumbled to a 13-11 record, playing games in mostly empty arenas while missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

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No. 2 Duke (26-4, 16-3 ACC) has already clinched its first outright regular season title since 2006, the No. 1 seed in next week's ACC Tournament and has an outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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But is he ready to say goodbye?

On Saturday night against rival UNC, the entire sports world will turn its gaze to Durham as Krzyzewski coaches in his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, on a court where he's earned 572 of his 1,997 career wins, and in a 9,314 seat arena where he's hung five national championship banners.

"It was mine for 42 years, but it's Duke's forever," Coach K said Thursday.

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"I did a little bit of thinking yesterday: ‘This is your last game at Cameron,’ " Krzyzewski said Thursday. "It’s crazy, how did that happen? How is it here? I’ll have to spend some time, have a meeting with me."

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He's spent most of his final season deflecting questions about his farewell tour — pushing focus toward player development and his team's successes and failures — with some notable emotional breaks at Virginia, Syracuse and most recently against his former player and assistant coach Jeff Capel at Pitt.

Former Duke player and Pitt coach Jeff Capel presents Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski with a statue. © Charles LeClaire, Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports Former Duke player and Pitt coach Jeff Capel presents Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski with a statue.

But 48 hours before his last home game, Coach K took a more reflective tone. Earlier that morning he had said to his staff, "Who would’ve ever thought? It’s my Senior Day."

"I think I’m just going to overall, I’m talking to myself right now, just let it happen," he said. "And see what the hell happens. But try not to let it negatively influence anything for my players, because look, for them, it’s their game. I’m responsible for making sure that they have the best chance to win that game."

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The focus will be on defeating UNC for the second time this season after easily beating the Tar Heels by 20 points last month. But it will be impossible to ignore the surrounding distractions.

The College GameDay stage was already being built in the shadow of Cameron as the team participated in its final practice Thursday. There was an air of anticipation hovering around campus, and maybe a little in the gym.

"I don't really try and let myself enjoy it, because if I do, I'm going to get so nervous," said guard Trevor Keels, one of three five-star freshmen likely playing in their final game at Cameron.

Mike Krzyzewski talks to guards Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach (3) during a timeout at Cameron Indoor Stadium. © Rob Kinnan, USA TODAY Sports Mike Krzyzewski talks to guards Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach (3) during a timeout at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Keels, like the rest of his team, has watched Coach K receive retirement gifts from their opponents: a Louisville slugger and bottle of bourbon from Louisville, a commemorative plaque from Virginia and a steel fist from Pitt.

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Their gift will be effort.

"I'm pretty sure if we get the win he'll be happy," Keels said. "I don't think he wants any gifts but that win."

Like any retirement party, Krzyzewski has already welcomed in extended family and friends that have traveled from out of town. He spoke with Quinn Snyder, a former player, assistant and current Utah Jazz coach, the night before and exchanged texts with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving that morning.

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It's expected that upwards of 80 former players will join him for a ceremony before the 6 p.m. ET tip. After the game, regardless of the result, Coach K will return to the court to address the crowd in what will be an emotional farewell.

"Well in the first few years, I don't think I would've predicted that 80 of them would be coming back or that I would even have 80," Coach K said, laughing. "Being in one place and having a good level of success throughout, you're able to form a lot of friendships ... a lot of guys can't be here, but the guys that are coming, that'll be great."

Mike Krzyzewski speaks following a scrimmage during Countdown to Craziness to start the NCAA college basketball season at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2012. © Gerry Broome, AP Mike Krzyzewski speaks following a scrimmage during Countdown to Craziness to start the NCAA college basketball season at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2012.

Krzyzewski made it clear, that yes, he'll still be around after retirement and he won't be giving up his top-floor office. He and his wife, Mickie, plan to be ambassadors for the university, but that's where his affiliation with Duke will end. He won't hover.

Opinion: Nobody did it better than Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and college basketball won't be the same without him

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"I will have nothing to do with our basketball program," he said. "Some people have told me things that have been written that I'm trying to maintain control. That could not be further from the truth."

He's got bigger plans for retirement.

"I want to get another dog, quickly," Krzyzewski said. His family lost their 12-year-old dog, Blue, to lung cancer over the summer. "I've missed my dog, big time, during the season. I got home yesterday and thought, 'This would be a great day to walk Blue.'"

David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at dthompson1@gannett.com, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Coach K readies for final bow at Cameron Indoor: 'Mine for 42 years, but it's Duke's forever'

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