Duke's Mike Krzyzewski Is Back on Top: What a Difference a Year Makes

Mike KlineAnalyst ISeptember 27, 2010

It was just about this time last year when a certain top-ranked high school basketball player was set to make his final decision on which college he would attend.

Duke was primed to take its most prized recruit in some time and Mike Krzyzewski had devoted quite a bit of time in wooing the young talent.

Most experts and recruiting analysts had figured it was almost a foregone conclusion that this kid was Duke bound: He talked like a Duke guy, he praised the university and its Hall of Fame Coach—he oozed Duke Basketball.

Then on Friday, November 13, 2009 Harrison Barnes did the unthinkable, at least to those in the Duke universe: he made a verbal commitment to arch rival North Carolina.

The decision went over the Duke nation like a ton of bricks—if there was ever a kid that was going to Duke, it was Barnes; now at the 11th hour to find out, via skype no less, that he was not only not going to be a Blue Devil but a Tar Heel was too much to bare.

It was total chaos on Duke Basketball message boards when the news broke: Many posters were declaring what seemed like complete defeat to a UNC program that was riding high off its fifth national title.

Others were either indirectly, or in some cases directly, wondering if Krzyzewski had lost his touch, even though he had already gotten a verbal commitment from top rated point guard Kyrie Irving just a few weeks prior.

Many citing the loss of several big recruits, from Patrick Patterson to Greg Monroe, thought Krzyzewski had lost his ability to recruit the top talent.

It wasn't just fans but the basketball experts and sports writers who were asking what is wrong with Duke and Mike Krzyzewski.

The fact that Duke hadn't made it past the Sweet 16 since JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams suited up for the Blue Devils had those same people wondering if the Golden Age of Duke Basketball was over.

The argument that Krzyzewski spent too much time with the National Team was also brought up again; many felt his loyalties, time, and efforts should be devoted solely to Duke.

On that day last November, not many Blue Devil fans, or maybe even Krzyzewski knew what kind of year he was in store for.

Duke did bring back a strong veteran nucleus of talent, and although preseason favorites to take home the ACC Crown, they were not seen as a particularly strong national title contender.

Shortly before the season kicked off, projected starter Mason Plumlee went down with a broken wrist and many were wondering what could possibly happen next.

Duke started off strong, but that was nothing new—many fans were waiting for the shoe to drop, as they've seen many strong Duke starts result in mid to late season collapses.

Some may have thought an embarrassing January beat down by Georgetown was that shoe. But as it turned out, Duke would only lose one more game on its way to a run that surprised most everyone.

During that run in the NCAA tournament, Duke was a trendy pick to be the first number one seed out. They were seen as vulnerable against teams with superior athletes such as Baylor; yet under Krzyzewski's leadership, the Blue Devils managed to take on all challengers.

They were the last No. 1 seed left, beating a very game Butler team to claim Duke's fourth national title, all under Krzyzewski, although even that was questioned by some who felt the Blue Devils got an unwarranted easy road to the Final Four.

With the title claimed, many opinions of Krzyzewski began to sway—perhaps he still had it, perhaps the national team wasn't a distraction after all?

Heading into the 2010 World Championships, Krzyzewski would hear the same type of criticism his Blue Devils faced just months prior.

Team USA was deemed too small, with too little FIBA experience. The Americans also had not won a World Championship since 1994.

Krzyzewski once again weaved his magic, still getting criticism along the way for his approach to motivating his players and his use of his bench. That still didn't discourage the team, lead by rising star Kevin Durant, from claiming the title with a convincing win over the home nation Turkey.

Krzyzewski would call it one of his happiest moments, one that even topped the 2008 Gold medal he helped Team USA claim in the Olympics.

Fresh off that title, Krzyzewski was back in Durham, NC working on his Duke teams 2010-2011 season. He was also hitting the recruiting trails in pursuit of another big time recruit who is once again down between Duke and North Carolina, as well as Kansas.

And just like Barnes, the recruitment of Austin Rivers is taking a familiar Duke lean. Many fans are waiting with baited breath for a decision, still with the Barnes decision in the backs of their mind.

Krzyzewski, on the other hand, probably isn't thinking about that at all. Beaming still from the National and World Championships that weren't suppose to be, he is focused on winning more at Duke.

Regardless of Rivers' decision, it would probably be best not to doubt the only coach to win or lead teams to a Collegiate National Title, an Olympic Gold Medal, and a World Championship.

All in all, it was quite a year for Krzyzewski, who is looking for more. So are his fans.


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