Duke’s Winning Spirit

The Duke Basketball program approaches winning much like the New York Yankees; both consistently produce championship-calibre teams. Head Coach of Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, known by fans as Coach K, has spearheaded the program for over 30 years, in which time he has won four NCAA championships and appeared in an astounding 11 Final Four appearances. He is widely considered to be one of the best college basketball coaches of all time and a compelling leader, also coaching the USA National Team to a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Following yet another impressive season, Coach K is taking his team on an excursion to face a new kind of challenge: an international exhibition game against the China Olympic Team here in Shanghai on 18 August.

After defeating Butler to become national champions in 2010, Duke ended this year’s regular season ranked number one, but was struck down in the NCAA Tournament by eighth-seeded Arizona in the third round. In June, Duke freshman Kyrie Irving was selected first overall in the NBA Draft, and team mates Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler were also picked in the first two rounds, although the latter two graduated before setting their sights on the big leagues. “When a player is good enough to be drafted high and goes early in the draft, I am in full agreement,” Krzyzewski admits. “The youngsters who are in our program for four years need no encouragement.”

The game in Shanghai is part of a two-week international trip for the Duke team, on which the team will play three times against the Chinese team and once against the UAE National Team in Dubai. Coach K could not be more excited about returning to China for the first time since winning the gold medal. “My experience in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics was one the best of my life. The people of China were absolutely amazing,” he says. There are high expectations for both the Duke team and the Chinese team, respectively, but fans on both sides are anticipating a great game featuring players that would never meet under normal circumstances.

Besides being able to showcase their skills on an international stage, the Duke team will also visit Chinese landmarks in order to expand their minds and cultural experiences. “While we are touring China, I believe our players can mature in a fantastic way,” Krzyzewski says. He hopes that his team, chock-full of incoming freshmen, will be able to absorb the setting and grow together as a group. “They will see another culture and experience it not just individually, but collectively. As a result, we can grow as people, as players and as a team.”

Many fans wonder how Duke has been able to stay so dominant throughout the years. “I think the secret to the success of any team is to always seek excellence and make that your goal on a day to day basis,” Krzyzewski affirms. The numbers certainly back up this sound advice from Coach K, as he has a staggering record of 827-225 in 31 seasons at Duke University. Talented superstars can have trouble assimilating their talents into a team setting, but Krzyzewski finds a way to balance those abilities to create a winning team. “When you have a standout player, they have a tremendous impact on the other players on your team. As a coach, you want to make that influence a positive one.”

Krzyzewski’s influence and success has been appreciated on all levels of basketball, leading to offers to coach several NBA teams throughout the years. “I have been fortunate to be given some opportunities to look at NBA coaching positions, but none of them matched up to coaching at Duke. I just really love the collegiate game,” he says proudly. Despite his success with professional players, Coach K prefers to help mould the skills and character of his college players, preparing them for the big stage. “NBA players are professionals, and college players are amateurs still learning the game.”

Krzyzewski knows that Duke is exactly where he wants to be, and he will persist and strive to be the best in the game. With teams such as North Carolina and Kentucky primed to make respective runs in the NCAA this season, Coach K is preparing the only way he knows how. “Competition is always great in the collegiate ranks. It really doesn’t matter when players go, there are always good players coming in to take their place.” As one of the best US college basketball teams challenges the skills of an entire country, the game will be an amazing display of the sport, not be to be missed no matter which side you are cheering for.

Duke University vs China Olympic Team. 18 August. 8pm. RMB 80 – RMB 880. Tickets available at www.smartshanghai.com/smartticket. Mercedes-Benz Arena, 1200 Expo Avenue

Syndicate content