Coach K: Duke kids deserving of some credit
It's a return to the good-old days for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who turned the Atlantic Coast Conference into his personal turkey-shoot this season.
Duke won both the ACC regular-season and ACC championships, dominating the league in a way the Blue Devils haven't done in years, resulting in a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils, who face West Virginia, a No. 2 seed, in the national semifinals Saturday night in Indianapolis, are the only remaining No. 1 seed in this year's Final Four.
Krzyzewski's team is making its 15th consecutive trip to the NCAAs and first Final Four appearance since 2004.
Duke won the most recent of its three national championships under Krzyzewski in 2001.
"I'm very excited for my team,'' said Krzyzewski, whose Duke squads have appeared in 11 Final Fours (tied for second-most in history). "I really love these guys. They haven't been given credit along their careers for what they are doing or what they are trying to accomplish.''
To hear Krzyzewski tell it, Duke's current players are not only competing against the rest of college basketball, but also against the legacy of past Duke teams led by Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Elton Brand, Cherokee Parks, J.J. Redick and Carlos Boozer.
From 1986-1994, Duke appeared in seven Final Fours, winning back-to-back titles in '91-'92. But since 1999, the Blue Devils have reached the Final Four a total of four times.
"There just isn't the difference that there was, especially a decade ago, with some of the top, historic programs — if any difference — and the emerging programs,'' Krzyzewski said. "There's just a lot of good basketball teams right now.''
Krzyzewski acknowledged that media and fan criticism comes with the territory.
Two years ago, Duke, a No. 2 seed, was upset by West Virginia, a No. 7 seed, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"You know that anyone who's successful over a period of time is not just going to have detractors in a few years, but throughout your career,'' said Krzyzeweski, 63. "No one is going to get everybody supportive of them. So I think you just go about your business.
"This isn't about vindication or anything like that. It's about coaching this group of kids, who deserve your full commitment.''
Krzyzewski's players understand that every game of their college careers will be played under intense scrutiny because of Duke's reputation as a basketball power.
The attention that comes with playing in the Final Four is similar to what they've already encountered.
"I think youngsters who come into the program have to know, and I think it's exciting for them to know, that every game they play will be an exciting one,'' Krzyzewski said. "There usually aren't going to be any empty seats when you're playing. You're going to be watched a lot. As a result of being watched a lot, there are going to be people who really want you to win and really want you to lose. I think that happens when any program at any level of sport that has continued success and high visibility.''