Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski keeps the pressure on his team during the second half of play. CHUCK LIDDY - firstname.lastname@example.org
updated 10:56 p.m. DURHAM – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reached 879 career victories Monday night by building a program, not just a team.
Much like former North Carolina coach Dean Smith – whose mark Krzyzewski tied with the top-ranked Blue Devils’ 98-72 victory over Elon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And whose record he could surpass as quickly as Dec. 29, vs. UNC Greensboro, which would push Krzyzewski to second on the all-time victories list and make him the winningest coach ever to have worked in the ACC.
“ No one’s done a better job in the ACC, by far, than Dean,’’ Krzyzewski said after his team stayed unbeaten (11-0) by shooting 49.2 percent and out-rebounding the Phoenix by 15. “We’ve done our share, but what he did is set a standard that the league had to adopt or else you drop by the wayside.
“And he’s one of the great pioneers, great coaches … he built a program when most people didn’t know what a program is. And he built one hell of a program at a great school by recruiting unbelievably great great kids, building great relationships with them, and they played a brand of basketball where they showed up every night. And we’ve, I think, done a lot like that in our own way.”
That showed against the Phoenix (4-7).
Although the Blue Devils were missing point guard Kyrie Irving (out indefinitely with a toe injury) for the third straight game; saw leading scorer Nolan Smith get into foul trouble; and lacked energy at times after finishing up semester exams; they did what countless other Duke teams have done before them: play fundamental ball to get the job done.
They used a 14-0 run early to pull away in the first half, then buried 3-pointers on three straight possessions with under four minutes to go to make the final margin what would be expected from the top team in the nation.
“I grew up in North Carolina, I grew up watching ACC basketball and I have always been a fan of his teams,’’ said Elon coach Matt Matheny. “But the thing that stands out to me about him the most is that he is a great learder, he is a leader of men. To me that is a great role model.”
Jack Isenbarger led Elon with 21 points. Duke’s Kyle Singler led all scorers with 24 points, while Nolan Smith chipped in 22 points in 21 minutes.
If the Blue Devils keep rolling, Krzyzewski this season could surpass all-time wins leader Bob Knight, who amassed 902 victories at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, over 42 seasons. But while Krzyzewski appreciates the milestones he is approaching, “I’m more interested in how we become a better team this year,’’ he said. “ … It’s not as big a thing right now, the bigger thing is how we’re developing our team. That’s the way it’s always been.”
And had to be.
Krzyzewski credited not only Smith, but former ACC coaches Terry Holland, Lefty Driesell, Bobby Cremins and Jim Valvano for – perhaps unwittingly – helping him get to where he is today.
“The league was amazing and the head of it was Dean; I think we all made each other better, because you had to be good to survive,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Each game … was pretty intense. As intense as you might think today’s game is, the late 80s and early 90s – and not as many guys went pro early, and so you had to become good or go into TV. Dean’s never been in TV.
“I love Dean, and we competed really hard against one another. But I think the ultimate thing that a competitor can say about another competitor is that he respects him 100 percent.”
IRVING UPDATE: Krzyzewski said that Irving saw a specialist for his injured toe over the exam period. “Like I’ve said a number of times, it could be the whole season [that he is out], but he’s definitely out a long time,’’ Krzyzewski said. “The reason for that is … every 10 days or so we get progress reports about how things are moving, and right now … it’s a long time.”