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Mike Krzyzewski's Farewell Tour Will Make for an Unforgettable CBB Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJune 3, 2021

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski
Duke's Mike KrzyzewskiGerry Broome/Associated Press

The men's college basketball community was rocked to its foundation by Wednesday's news (via Stadium's Jeff Goodman) that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to retire at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Even though he's 74 years old, even though Roy Williams just retired two months ago and even though rumors of this decision had been circling for the past few weeks, that push notification still hit our phones like a bombshell.

It truly will be the end of an era.

Krzyzewski has been leading the Blue Devils since 1980. With the exception of Pete Gaudet "pinch coaching" in 1995 while Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery, odds are you can't recall having ever seen another head coach in Durham.

At the time of Coach K's hiring, there was no shot clock, there was no three-point arc, and the idea of a freshman declaring for the NBA draftlet alone the notion of building a national championship roster around multiple one-and-done playerswould have glitched people's brains.

If the combination of the transfer portal boom, the "name, image and likeness" revolution and an exhausting past 15 months in a global pandemic contributed to his decision to call it quits next spring, let's not pretend it's because he's unable or unwilling to adapt. Coach K embraced more than his fair share of changing times en route to 1,170 career wins, 12 Final Fours, five national championships and five Olympic gold medals (two as an assistant; three as the head coach).

It's simply his time to move on and pass the torch to Jon Scheyer. (What a first-time head coaching gig that'll be.)

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That transition is still a year away, though, and love him or hate him, Coach K is a living, breathing monolith of the sport. If you're wondering whether he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of head coaches, it's a given in men's college basketball and an intriguing conversation if you're talking the four greatest coaches of all time regardless of sport. 

But those are your two options: Love him or hate him.

That is going to make his upcoming farewell tour an unforgettable one.

Mike Krzyzewski and Christian Laettner
Mike Krzyzewski and Christian LaettnerEric Risberg/Associated Press

Whether you follow men's college basketball religiously, or you simply swoop in on an annual basis when it's time to fill out a bracket, you invariably have a strong opinion of Krzyzewski. While he's nowhere near as polarizing as, say, Muhammad Ali, LeBron James or Tim Tebow, he's easily neck-and-neck with Bill Belichick atop the list of current head coaches for whom it is impossible to have a lukewarm point of view.

Thus, whether you revere him as the G.O.A.T. and want to watch him go for 1,200 career wins and a sixth title, or whether you think he's a petulant crybaby and want to watch him slink away after a career-ending first-round exit from the NCAA tournament, the moral of the story is you want to watch.

The transcontinental divide between the two camps of reactions to Wednesday's news—either "How will this legend ever be replaced?" or "Of course this vain dude is throwing himself a farewell tour!"was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Krzyzewski's place in history is going to be a multiple-times-per-week debate throughout the upcoming season.

It'll start long before the Champions Classic opener against Kentucky on Nov. 9, it will build steam through the Nov. 26 game against Gonzaga, it will catch fire in the presumed regular-season finale against loathed rival North Carolina, and it will be an inextinguishable inferno for however long Duke lasts in the NCAA tournament.

By all means, feel free to start bracing yourself for it now.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Provided we're back at or close to full-capacity arenas five months from now, the secondary ticket market for each and every Duke game is going to be out of control. If people were paying thousands for the chance to see Zion Williamson for the first time a few years ago, you best believe people will be ponying up that type of dough to see Krzyzewski for the last time.

And though some may not want to see it, I appreciate Coach K's decision to run this season-long victory lap, if only because I appreciate good theatre in sports.

Not only would it have been a little messed up to sign three of the top 20 recruits in the country and leave them high and dry, but Duke is a legitimate title threat (per usual) because of that incoming class. And the prospect of Duke possibly winning it all in Krzyzewski's final year is the type of thing that could lead to increased national interest in college hoops long before March MadnessAKA the eternal struggle of our beloved niche sport.

Where things go from there in men's college basketball, I truly don't know. Winds have already been shifting swiftly as far as transfers and NIL are concerned. But high schoolers declaring for the NBA draft didn't kill the sport. The one-and-done era hasn't kill the sport. Guys playing overseas didn't kill the sport. The FBI scandal didn't kill it. It will live on beyond Krzyzewski's time on the sideline, and people will still hate Duke with the burning passion of a thousand sunsespecially if Scheyer immediately flourishes.

However, there's no question that things will feel different without Coach K.

Having this concrete expiration date on his career is going to make this a season to remember.

        

Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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