Posted November 8, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Keeler: Duke in position for next title run

I've always hated the expression about bleeding a certain team's color. We all know that the only color you can actually bleed is red. However, if I were to bleed another color for a sports team, there's no question it would be blue -- as in Duke blue.

With college basketball season set to begin this week, I can't help but feel just a little more excited. Duke is not only the No. 1 men's team, but also the defending champion. And I'm not sure the program has ever been in better shape.

At Duke, winning starts and ends with head coach Mike Krzyzewski (believe it or not, I didn't have to look up that spelling).

It was just a few years ago that some so-called experts on TV and on message boards were saying that Krzyzewski was on the way down. His program was going downhill and he couldn't get it done as a coach anymore.

In 2005, Krzyzewski took over as USA basketball head coach. Immediately, many Duke fans were worried that this would hurt the Duke program. How can he coach a team of NBA players and still have time for recruiting the best high school players to come to Durham?

For a while it looked like the cynics might be right. While Krzyzewski was turning things around with the USA team, winning the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Duke went into a slump.

The Blue Devils lost early in the NCAA Tournament to VCU, West Virginia and Villanova in three consecutive years.

Last year no one, including myself, thought they would win it all. I felt they were a year away, but Krzyzewski showed once again he's the best coach in the game. He found a way to bring a group of guys together to play as a team.

They weren't the most talented group of players last year, but they played together as one better than anybody.

Over the summer, Krzyzewski led the USA team to the gold medal in the FIBA World Championships. Life couldn't be better for the 63-year old Krzyzewski.

Duke is ranked No. 1 to start this season, and has added Liberty transfer Seth Curry, as well as a top-notch recruiting class. Former Courtland standout Josh Hairston and Kyrie Irving are among this year's freshmen. Irving is expected to be the best freshman point guard in the country.

On top of that, Duke has another stellar class coming in next year, which includes the top-ranked recruit in the country Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
I think it's safe to say that Duke is back on top of the basketball world, and all the critics who thought Krzyzewski was done were clearly wrong. In fact, Krzyzewski has used his experience coaching the USA team to his benefit with the Blue Devils.

Not only has he learned from some of his assistants with the USA team, but he also shares stories of the NBA players with his college players. Krzyzewski uses it to motivate the Blue Devils to want to be more like the NBA stars.

ESPN spent eight days in Durham taping a behind-the-scenes look at the Duke program. Part of the series aired last week and the rest airs this week. It does a good job showing what makes this program so special.

The thing that makes Krzyzewski such a great coach is his ability to relate to his players. He treats them with respect and finds ways to make them understand what they need to know.

He also makes sure they understand it's all about team at Duke. When you're taking a shot, it's not your shot, it's Duke's shot.

He also has a great rapport with his assistant coaches -- Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski (I did have to look that spelling up) and Nate James -- all of whom played for Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski trusts all of his assistants completely, and allows them to work with the players throughout practice while he watches.

Another thing that's important is how the players feel about Krzyzewski. The fact that he has three former players as assistants shows how much the players care about the program and him. You can see it in how the players listen to Krzyzewski. They understand that he knows what he's talking about and they want to learn from him. They trust him and that's very important to being successful.

Krzyzewski also makes sure that they are student-athletes. Each freshman has to study a certain amount of time each day. The players getting an education at Duke is important to Krzyzewski, and that's why so many of the players stay for four years there, including senior Kyle Singler. Krzyzewski wants to make them not only better basketball players, but also smarter, better people. Krzyzewski truly cares about his players, which is why they in turn care so much about him.

I truly believe this season is going to be another banner year for Duke. I've already seen some fans on message boards talking about going undefeated. I don't think that's going to happen, and it's way too early to be talking like that. However, I do think Duke has a great chance at a fifth national championship.

I will be going to Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend for the Duke women's basketball team's season opener, and I can't wait to look up in the rafters and see that fourth banner hanging up there.

There's still an awful lot of room in the rafters for more banners, and I think as long as Krzyzewski is coaching more of them will be put up there. But whether Duke wins another one or not, the most important thing is the effect Krzyzewski has on the players and the program.

He does things the right way and that's why as long he's there, Duke will always be on top of the world in my eyes and my blood.

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