PHOTO: Coach K’s final media gathering Thursday before his last game Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 42 years as Duke’s head coach.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
DURHAM – Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski entered the meeting room Thursday afternoon at Coach K Tower, officially known as Scharf Hall. The stride was labored but natural for a 75-year-old man relying on artificial knees and hips and a back surgically repaired a little more than quarter-century ago.
He needed no introduction, of course. So, he took his seat on the dais and opened the session for questions without introductory remarks. Everyone knows Duke is facing North Carolina in a 6 p.m. Saturday game at Cameron Indoor Stadium It’s the final time in his 42 years coaching the Blue Devils on the sidelines of the hallowed arena.
But there was at least one time, well into his Duke reign, when he needed an introduction at the Emily K Center he established in 2006 in Durham. The center, named for his mother, provides education programs for under-served communities.
In 2014, Gizzie Kolako, an African refugee from Liberia, was honored among the Emily K Center’s “Scholars to College” program. Coach K posed for photos with the honorees. At the time, Kolako was sophomore on the Durham Northern High boys soccer team. Once he received the photo, he brought it to his soccer coach, Mike Tetrault, with a question.
“Coach, who is the old guy in the photo with me?” Kolako asked.
Tetrault laughed and replied, “Gizzie, you must be the only person in the state who doesn’t know Coach K.”
Kolako, though, understood by the time he graduated from Northern in 2016 and headed off to Guilford College, a liberal arts school in Greensboro.
And he has no doubt heard about the game this week. North Carolina travels to Duke Saturday for Coach K’s final game on the sidelines at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The resell market for tickets has reached Super Bowl standards.
For the Thursday media session, Coach K was wearing a blue warmup with “Emily K Center” emblazoned over the heart side. He wore the same outfit back in September when he conducted the first of a season-long media sessions about the final season.
He’s usually eager to take questions on the Emily K Center, proud of non-profit’s growth and influence on the Durham community. But an opportunity for such a question in the controlled media environment wasn’t offered along with the basketball questions.
Coach K alternated between reflective, sentimental and whimsical with his answers.
Of all the big games and drama at Cameron:
“One of the great things about sport is it is reality TV. Reality TV is not reality. Sports is. That’s the beauty of it whatever sport it is. That’s the life I lived.”
Of his identity with Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It was mine for 42 years, but it’s Duke forever.”
Then he mentioned the bleachers running the length of the court opposite the team benches have remained for the students, the “Cameron Crazies.” Once Coach K built Duke into a perennial national title contender, the seats remained for the students.
“I commend our school. Those could have been very expensive seats.”
On his retirement years, he looks forward to being an ambassador for the school and researching how to improve the fan experience in Cameron’s cramped quarters. He did commit to at least one plan. He’s been without his trusty friend Blue since the dog died in the summer of 2021. Blue was by his side 12-1/2 years. He put off buying another dog until after the season, deciding he was too busy to train a puppy.
“I missed my dog this season, big time,” he said. “Yesterday was so beautiful here. When I was going home, I was thinking, ‘This would have been a heck of a day to walk with Blue.”
As for basketball, though, he said he’s ready to move to his retirement years. He hasn’t experiencing second thoughts about having announced last summer this would be his final season.
“Believe me, I’m ready. There is no thought in my mind. I won’t be at games. Where do I sit? I’m not going to hover anything. Everyone needs their space. Right now, it’s my space, and I’m going to try and finish out in a good place. I think we are in a good place.
“When I say I’m saying I’m looking forward to a new chapter, don’t confuse that with I’m ready for this to be over. I’m not. We’ve put too much into it.”
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