Messages from the loyal Duke to Coach K

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Adahli Massey, a 51-year-old from Auburn, Alabama, remembers seeing Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski in the back pew of a church in the mid-1990s. Contrary to words grandiose most commonly used to describe Krzyzewski throughout his farewell tour this year – “the greatest”, “the most successful”, etc. – Massey describes Krzyzewski as “very humble, devoted”.

The legendary ‘Coach K’ figure may seem larger than life to most, but during his 42 years at Durham, fans have also come to know him in a different way through interactions and impressions at the both small and large. To understand how many people he touched during his tenure at Duke, I asked the Duke Basketball Facebook group for any stories and thoughts they had about Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.

From personalized letters to little league banter to private musings, here’s what Duke fans nationwide had to say, edited for length and clarity.

‘Big Big Heart’

Many fans wanted to express their gratitude to Krzyzewski and the kindness of the program over the years.

Hildy Savell, whose two younger sons went to Duke, first fell in love with the Blue Devils during a 2011 campus visit with her oldest son Evan, who graduated in 2016. The two snuck into the Cameron Indoor Stadium through a side door and saw Krzyzewski speak. , and “[Evan’s] mouth was touching the ground,” the 59-year-old Long Island, NY native said in a phone call.

“Maybe it’s because of my love for [Evan]mused Savell, probing why she felt so instantly connected to the team and why she kept looking on her own. “Maybe it brought me closer to the boys.”

In 2016, just after her youngest son Ryan started at Duke, Savell was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was struck by how the team supported Debbie Jones, the mother of Duke players Tyus and Tre Jones, in her own battle with breast cancer. To everyone’s surprise in his senior year, Ryan worked with a manager friend of his to arrange a meeting between Savell and Debbie Jones after a game.

“I just thought keeping the love in this family is just so wonderful…. She was lovely. We talked more than boys, talked about our health and she had just had a good scan, and it felt more like a reunion of mother. And it was great. It was like one of the most meaningful things that happened to me there.

For Savell, the Blue Devils and Krzyzewski are so special because of their ‘kinship’ and ‘spirit’, and Donna Graham Hammond, 70, a resident of Riegelwood, North Carolina, echoed that sentiment in a message sent.

Hammond’s granddaughter, Sophia, was diagnosed with cancer in November 2019 and was part of the UNC health system. Sophia and her father often watched Duke football, so when the North Carolina football team came to visit, Sophia “didn’t say much but she whispered to her mom, ‘Is that Duke?’ “, writes Hammond.

Hammond contacted Krzyzewski with the story, and a little later a package from him with autographed photos and a note of encouragement arrived, “a priceless keepsake for this Duke family.”

Now that Sophia is cancer free, Hammond writes, “Coach K is the best coach with a big heart. Thank you Coach K and LGD!”

Meanwhile, Karen Russum, 67, of Chestertown, Maryland, who has been an avid Duke fan “ever since Wojo was there,” said she met Krzyzewski in Las Vegas, where they had a chat of their grandchildren and how wonderful it was to be grandparents.

A little later, Russum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and her friend contacted Krzyzewski as a surprise to cheer Russum up.

“I went through the mail and there was this envelope from Duke…I opened it and started crying…[Krzyzewski] sent me a poster and he wrote, ‘We are all behind you and stay strong and go Duke,’ and that was just an inspiration,” Russum said.

“Midwestern Values”

Other fans wanted to reminisce about personal relationships.

Former basketball coach George Scholz, who turns 70 in April, has always admired Krzyzewski. He described former West Point head coach Bobby Knight’s “Let’s Play Defence” pamphlet as his bible when Scholz first started coaching. But then, as Krzyzewski rose through the ranks, Scholz said he “learned and studied” how Krzyzewski ran his program.

“Every article I read about Coach K or what he did, how he coached – it was posted on our [locker room] message board if it was appropriate, and it was highlighted,” Scholz said.

More than Krzyzewski the coach, however, Scholz, along with his wife Lynne, admires Krzyzewski the man. Having met Krzyzewski a few times over the years, Scholz said, “I felt like Coach K was absolutely a Chicago guy, Midwestern values. A wonderful person and a wonderful family man…There was never a note, letter or favor that I contacted Coach K [about] that he did not reply to me with a personal note written by himself.

There has never been a time when these values ​​were more on display than the 37-year period during which Krzyzewski reserved a seat for Steve Mitchell, who had Down syndrome, directly behind him at his invitation.

Mitchell, who died in 2017 aged 63, began sitting behind Krzyzewski in 1980 and the two shook hands before every home game.

Krzyzewski said in an email to The News & Observer after Mitchell’s passing that “Steve has become a good friend…It always felt good to shake his hand before games because I looked up to him and I loved him. I was proud of him.”

In a telephone interview, Candace Black, Mitchell’s sister, said, “The fact that Coach K allowed Steve to do this for 37 years meant a lot to Steve and meant a lot to our family, because when Steve was born in 1954 the doctor said he wouldn’t live past 30 and he lived to be 63…Coach K meant a lot to Steve and in turn meant a lot to us, and the fact that he is retiring, he will be missed by so many people.”

“Duke fan since little league baseball”

Still others wanted to share little Krzyzewski moments that stand out as special even after so many years of rooting for the Blue Devils.

Kim Reed, one of the founders of Krzyzewskiville, explained that after she and her friends from the Mirecourt dorm camped out several days in advance to secure center field spots for the North Carolina game, a thousand other students followed suit. Reed and his friends jokingly waved for the now eponymous village of Krzyzewski, and a Duke tradition was born.

“[Krzyzewski] didn’t come specifically to see us, I think because he thought we were crazy and he had never seen that before. But he passed by with Alaa Abdelnaby, a rookie, and we all said hello to him and waved at him, and he kind of waved at us with a funny look… I don’t think not that he thought anything of it. He just thought, there’s a bunch of weird kids out there,” the 1986 graduate said.

Matthew Memrick, a 43-year-old man from Charlotte, grew up across the street from Krzyzewski’s home, and he frequently played basketball with the neighborhood kids in Krzyzewski’s driveway.

“I also played baseball in the North Durham Little League where one of my first coaches was Joe Alleva,” Memrick wrote in a submission. “Anyway, I was on the all-star team one year and K came out (maybe 1988). He made the announcement and he called the kids’ names as ‘they were showing up at bat. He called my name and joked that people could easily be mistaken. I thought it was funny because everyone got their names wrong…[I] I’ve been a Duke fan since little league baseball.

Meanwhile, 69-year-old Doren Madey Pinnell, who earned a BS, M.Ed., and Ph.D from Duke, humorously recalls being a bit of a superfan with her late husband, renowned dermatologist Dr. Sheldon Pinnell. .

“We had our first and only son, Tyson, together in 1983…. Back then, you could stay in the hospital for more than a day after having a baby. On the fifth day, Sheldon picked me up from the hospital and we went to a Duke men’s basketball game…. At one point my late husband had over 30 seats inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. And when they computerized the system, they said, “Who the hell is Pinnell?” And they made us return everything but our four personal seats,” she said.

Doren also recalled how Krzyzewski regularly sent Tyson signed posters, such as one congratulating the seventh-grader on being the top scorer for his undefeated Durham Academy basketball team.

“Loyalty. Honor. Passion.”

Finally, some Duke loyalists simply wanted to reflect.

Matt Uhlman, a 2010 graduate of Duke Medical School in Yakima, Wash., praised Krzyzewski’s composure. “He was on his way to becoming the most successful manager of all time, he had won at every level, but he always remained humble and recognized that he was finally playing a game. The way he led his teams and helping them keep things in perspective has always been very inspiring.

Additionally, David London of Boulder, Colorado, and a Class of 1989 alumnus, reflected on “how [Krzyzewski] did [him] during [him] the life.”

He writes, “My best friends to this day are a group of about a dozen of my Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers. I have no doubt that the continuity and continued excellence of the basketball team led by Coach K is one of the main reasons we are still such good friends over 30 years later. . I always have a text thread with two of these guys for each game! »

Charlie White, a 49-year-old man from Asheboro, North Carolina, put it simply: “To me, Coach Krzyzewski is all about excellence. Loyalty. Honor. Passion. Although he’s certainly not not a perfect man, he’s the kind of leader any parent would be comfortable entrusting their son with, he understands that first and foremost a coach is an educator who is responsible for not just teaching the game to his players, but also to prepare them to become men. Finally, for me, he is the coach who made the Duke program the gold standard. He is the GOAT.

Editor’s note: This article is part of the Coach K commemorative edition of The Chronicle. Please click here for more content.


Sasha Richie

Sasha Richie is a junior at Trinity and the blue zone editor of the 117th volume of The Chronicle.

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