Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski on His Motivational Techniques

Ro ShiellAnalyst IJuly 18, 2011

Have you ever wondered what makes a good player great? What’s the edge they hold over another player with the same size and athletic ability? Or sometimes, there are players who have neither size nor athletic ability, but through sheer will, theywalk into any arena and conquer.

Having a coach like Mike Krzyzewski, who thinks that the game is more than X's and O's on a chalk board, will certainly help.

Via a Wall Street Journal piece, Coach K tells the story of how he willed Shane Battier to be a star by calling him every day and asking him specific thought-provoking questions.

One summer morning in 1999, he called Shane, a rising junior at the time, and asked him if he had looked in the mirror and seen next year’s conference player of the year. When Battier fumbled his words, Coach hung up.

The next day he called the 6’8” forward and asked him if he had pictured himself scoring 30 points in any game the following season. Battier was clearly not ready for that question either, so he encountered another dead phone.

It was after that 1998-1999 season when Duke saw four productive players leave from a team that lost in the 1999 national championship to UConn, giving Jim Calhoun his first title.

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13:  Shane Battier #31 of the Memphis Grizzlies calls a defensive play against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 13, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Trajan Langdon graduated. Elton Brand, a sophomore at the time, decided to go pro and was the first overall draft pick to the Michael Jordan-less Chicago Bulls.

William Avery, a sophomore, got drafted 14th by the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Freshman Corey Maggette got drafted just before Avery by the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics.

If when it rains it pours, it certainly was a storm for Duke that summer. Coach K had never had a player leave Duke before graduating up to that time, but then not one, but three players left early.  Had that team played another year together, the Blue Devils would have at least made the Final Four again.

However that was not to be, so Coach K had to form another plan. Make Shane Battier, a role player on that 1998-1999 team, a star. This was made more difficult, because the player had never imagined himself as a star.

After the second call, Battier called his coach back, asking him not to hang up on him again. Coach K replied, "I won't hang up on you if you won't hang up on you.”

How many times have we seen players who are so blessed with talent and ability but just don’t believe in themselves?

Kobe Bryant is a prime example. You can call him a selfish player who at times he torpedoes his own team, but at the end of the day, he deserves respect because the guy tries. Kobe puts in the effort.

Compare him to Vince Carter, widely thought to have squandered his talents, or LeBron James, who disappears whenever the game gets tough. A player with confidence will always triumph over a player unsure of himself. That's why Austin Rivers is considered a top recruit. 

Harrison Barnes started poorly last season, making everyone wonder what the big deal was about him. Then at the end of the season, he pulled himself together and reminded everyone why he was the top-rated recruit in the country. What was the difference? Confidence.

There is no way of knowing if Coach Krzyzewski’s strategy is directly responsible for Battier’s growth, but Battier's high school coach said this to The New York Times about his former player once.

“He had a tendency to defer. He had this incredible ability to make everyone around him better. But I had to tell him to be more assertive. The one game we lost his freshman year, it was because he deferred to the seniors.”

After that summer of motivation Battier went from averaging 9.1 points in 23 minutes as a college sophomore to 17.4 points, the next season, in 34 minutes.

Then in 2001 he upped the ante with 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 2.1 steals and led Duke to a championship.

He not only won ACC Conference Player of the Year (actually shared this honour with Joe Forte of UNC), but also the Naismith Player of the Year award and Final Four MVP.

A player once described as "at best, a marginal NBA athlete” by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey carved a name for himself in the NBA. 

This summer, the eighth-seed Memphis Grizzlies beat top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the NBA playoffs.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were aptly praised for their play, but know this: Memphis did not start winning playoff games until after Battier got traded to them midseason.

“I call him Lego,” Morey told the New York Times. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.” 


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