DURHAM, N.C. — For 41 previous seasons, Mike Krzyzewski has counseled Duke basketball players on how to handle the swirling emotions of their Senior Day. The commingling of pride, joy, sadness and nostalgia can be a lot to process before the last time they take the court in Cameron Indoor Stadium and bathe in the adoration of the home fans.
Saturday, it’s finally Coach K’s Senior Day. It’s time for him to coach himself on how to say goodbye to college Camelot.
At the final pre-North Carolina press conference of his incredible career Thursday, Krzyzewski walked himself through it, thinking out loud. He acknowledged that the reality started to hit Wednesday—this is it, the 648th and final contest here, the culmination of a symbiotic relationship between a man and a building that has become synonymous with the passion of the college game. The collegians who play and cheer in Cameron never age, but the coach is now 75 and Saturday is an ending that is both a long time coming and arriving quite suddenly.
“It’s crazy. How did that happen? How is it here?” K said, with disarming candor. “I’ll have to spend some time, have a meeting with me. Maybe a few tough talks about keeping my eyes on the road, so to speak.
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“In sport, you never know what’s going to happen—so the spontaneity of emotion and performance, it’s one of the great things about sport. It really is reality TV, and reality TV is not reality TV. Sport is, and that’s the beauty of it. I’m talking to myself right now—I think I’m just going to let it happen. See what the hell happens.”
A wise choice not to script what is better left unscripted. But here’s an educated guess at what will happen:
- The glitterati will be on a scale never seen for a regular-season college basketball game, with the connected angling for tickets and the rich shelling out thousands to get in the door of the 9,314-seat Gothic bandbox. Virtually none of the other Mount Rushmore coaches in the sport had a formalized, final-game goodbye like this—not John Wooden, not Dean Smith, not Bob Knight, not Roy Williams, not Jim Calhoun. (Adolph Rupp was feted before his last home game at Kentucky in 1972, but there was still a chance he would continue coaching past what was the mandatory retirement age of 70. His retirement wasn’t official until three weeks later.)
- The nostalgia and tradition will be thick, with an estimated 80 former Krzyzewski Duke players in attendance. “In the first few years I wouldn’t have predicted 80 of them would be coming back—or that I’d even have 80,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, alluding to his rocky first three seasons on the job.
- The emotional challenge will be steep for a man who prides himself on his military discipline and focus. Krzyzewski is hardly an open book of feelings, but he’s also …….