An end of an era in college basketball


When he was first hired as the Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball coach Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, ran the following headline on May 4, 1980: “Krzyzewski: this is not a typo.”
Today that little-known and lightly regarded coach – Mike Krzyzewski – is college basketball’s all-time winningest coach. Recently Krzyzewski, who will turn 75 on Feb. 13, announced that he will retire after this season.
Dan Wetzel wrote in Yahoo Sports: “Mike Krzyzewski arrived at Duke University in 1980 with little fanfare and a nearly unpronounceable name…. He’ll go down not just as college basketball’s all-time winningest coach, but an icon across numerous generations of the sport whose impact is felt far beyond his own campus.”

Krzyzewski has more than the 1,170 coaching victories, 12 Final Fours, five national titles at Duke and three gold medals won while coaching the U.S. men’s basketball team at the Olympics.
Mike Krzyzewski was born in Chicago on Feb. 13, 1947. His parents, Bill and Emily, were Polish immigrants. Mike’s mother, the former Emily Pituch, grew up in Waltersburg, PA south of Pittsburgh. Her father, Jozef, worked in the coal mines there but eventually moved to Chicago.
Emily never went to high school and her husband only went for a couple of years. Bill worked mostly as an elevator operator, while Emily took care of Mike and older brother Bill, and scrubbed floors at night in the Chicago Athletic Club. They lived on the first floor of a rented house in a predominantly Polish neighborhood on the North Side, with relatives living upstairs.
In his book, Leading With The Heart, Coach K told of how he, as an 18-year-old high school senior, was offered an appointment to West Point. He had led the Chicago Catholic League in scoring for two seasons and had good grades, so he could have played college ball elsewhere. Besides, he “didn’t want to be a soldier.” However, his parents saw West Point as something that was only available to the children of the rich and privileged, and a great opportunity for Mike. One of the ways they communicated that to him was by speaking to each other in Polish, throwing in words like “West Point” and “Mike” and “stupid.” He eventually relented and went to West Point, which changed his life.
Mike’s father died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1969, when Mike was a freshman at West Point. However, his mother continued to guide and support him through college, the Army, and the college coaching ranks, passing away in 1996 at age 84.
Krzyzewski, who wears his Polish heritage on his sleeve, was inducted into the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Krzyzewski’s retirement announcement was somewhat anticipated but jarring nonetheless. For the past few years there had been a lot of discussion about who would eventually be chosen to for the daunting task of succeeding a coaching legend.
Among the potential candidates was another Polish American, Bobby Hurley. Hurley had played point guard for Krzyzewski, leading the Blue Devils to a pair of national championships in the 1990s. Bobby later became a coach, running successful programs at the University of Buffalo and now Arizona State. However, Duke has announced that current associate head coach Jon Scheyer will be Coach K’s replacement when he finishes his 42nd season at the school.
Krzyzewski said he thought it was “fair” to announce his decision and the transition to Scheyer before the recruiting season started. He said he’ll continue to be active in the Duke community after his retirement, but will look to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Although the plan is in place, Krzyzewski made it clear that he’s not finished with coaching Duke basketball just yet. ”A message to our students: Come back in August,” he said. “We’re going to be ready, you be ready, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what the hell happens.”


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