For Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, the 2021-2022 season will be the legend’s last. One last hurrah for the 74-year-old five-time NCAA champion, who announced in June that he would be retiring at season’s end.
But don’t tell him that. Coach K doesn’t want the drama and theatrics, he just wants to win. Win is what No. 9 Duke will look to do after a disappointing 13-11 season in 2020-2021.
“I’ve told my staff and everyone around me not to use the word ‘last,’” Krzyzewski said to USA Today. “This is my 47th year, my 42nd year at Duke. I’m going after it the way I’ve gone after it every year.”
Associate head coach Jon Scheyer, who played under Krzyzewski from 2011-2013, has been tabbed as the man to succeed the greatest coach in college basketball history. With large shoes to fill, Scheyer knows sending off Krzyzewski with a great season will be paramount.
“No matter what, for all of us, there’s an emotional piece to this,” Scheyer said. “And it’s important that we don’t get too far ahead, that we don’t get too sentimental. But also, we’re going to use that as motivation.
“He doesn’t want it to be about him. … But there’s no question every one of us as coaches, every one of us in that locker room, wants to send him off on an incredibly special season.”
To accomplish that special season, the Blue Devils will lean on the shoulders of freshman forward Paolo Banchero. Ranked as the No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 100, the 6-foot-10, 250 pounder from O’Dea High School in Seattle comes in with sky high expectations. Banchero made history earlier this week, becoming the first freshman to be named ACC basketball preseason player of the year in 32 years of voting.
Tasked with replacing the ACC’s leading scorer a year ago in Matthew Hurt (18.3 PPG), Duke will need the strong play down the stretch last season of sophomore center Mark Williams to carry over. Williams got off to a slow start in his freshman campaign but was dominant during the ACC Tournament. Williams averaged 18.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG in victories over Boston College and Louisville in the tournament. He also led the Blue Devils with a 68% field goal percentage in the final 14 games, a tremendous rate for the seven-footer.
Krzyzewski will get his first look at his final squad on Nov. 9, during the annual Champions Classic in New York against No. 10 Kentucky. Duke will then prepare itself for a marquee matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26 in Las Vegas, the defending runner up for the national championship.