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Mike Krzyzewski on senior leadership and Duke's toughest player

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Mike Krzyzewski looked more like this when he was coaching Danny Meagher, who he has consistently called one of the toughest players at Duke. Credit: N&O ARCHIVES

For today's paper, I wrote about the importance of senior leadership in the NCAA Tournament. It's up to the coaches and underclassmen to get on the page of the seniors at this time of year, Mike Krzyzewski said.

That's not a new idea. Shane Battier said about a month ago that Duke is a upperclassmen-driven program. And on Tuesday, Seth Curry talked about the best leader he has seen in his four years at Duke: Lance Thomas.

Thomas didn't have a huge impact on the stats sheet: over his four-year career, he averaged 4.6 points per game, just slightly under his 4.8 mark from his senior year alone. But what Thomas lacked in scoring production he made up for with leadership: if someone wasn't playing well, Thomas would get in their face and let them know it.

It's the kind of attitude that's absent from this year's team. They could use it.

There have been several notable senior leaders at Duke: Battier, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, just to name a few. But when talking about the toughest player and best senior leaders he has ever had, Kryzewski has continually mentioned one name throughout the years: Danny Meagher.

"I don’t know if you remember Danny, but he is as tough of kid that’s played here," Krzyzewski said.

Meagher doesn't show up on any of Duke's all-time scoring or rebounding lists. As a member of Krzyzewski's first recruiting class in Durham, He played before Duke was Duke, from 1981-1985. In his senior year, the Blue Devils won their first NCAA Tournament game under Krzyzewski and advanced to the second round.

"And (Jay) Bilas, (Mark) Alarie and those kids were juniors, and Danny was a senior," Krzyzewski said. "And when we lost in the NCAA Tournament, we lost to BC by a point, and we were in the locker room, everybody was down, but there was only one kid that was unbelievably emotional, and that was Danny.

"He basically was like someone, you see these movies where someone dies and they throw themselves on the gravesite they’re so emotional, that’s how Danny was. And Danny says, ‘you guys do not understand. You don’t understand.’ He kept repeating, ‘You don’t understand. This is it for me. This is it, it’s no more,’ and he’s crying his eyes out.

"And I believe it's one of the reasons we almost won the national championship the next year with that group. Because those juniors then understood the finality, that this could be over. And it’s something in the culture of our program, that we try to let our guys know that about the past, is that these things have happened and to remember.

It is mainly about the seniors. They need to lead us, they need to play well, they need to step up, and they will help set the stage for the other guys on the team."

The next question was whether this year's team could draw a similar experience from last year's debacle, and Krzyzewski said no, in as many words. There was only one Danny Meagher, and Krzyzewski has been talking about him ever since he left in 1985. But he wouldn't mind the seniors remembering the days when Thomas was still around.

"We won a national championship, remember?" Krzyzewski said dryly. "Those are good things to remember, too. When you have a family get together, and you take out pictures, do you talk about all the crappy things that happened?”

P.S. Since leaving Duke, if you're wondering, Meagher appears to have done quite well for himself: he was drafted in the sixth round by the Chicago Bulls and played in the 1986 FIBA World Championship for Canada. Once his playing days were done, he attended Penn's Wharton business school and has worked in accounting and investment banking.

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Toughest leader

If I knew a guy in college who get me a $60 or 70K "loan" so I could potentially buy me a diamond necklace (or was it diamond earrings?) I'd call him the toughest leader as well.

That's just me, though.

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley