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It requires a remarkable 18-year-old to possess both the talent to play elite college basketball and the maturity to handle Coach K's generous helpings of responsibility. While most programs recruit players exclusively on athletic talent, Krzyzewski says he evaluates talent, academic potential and character equally. In addition to asking for teacher evaluations and paying close attention to how a prospect interacts with authority ("If his mother asks a question and the kid makes a teenage face--hmmm, you start to wonder"), the Duke coaching staff makes a point of finding out who a kid's friends are. "One of the kids we're recruiting right now, I like him because his best friend is another kid on his team who's a real little guy," says Krzyzewski. "When you see them hanging out, you can tell they're just good guys, that he'd fit in here."
Adhering to self-imposed recruiting standards means that Duke works with a talent pool far shallower than the competition's. The reward is that Coach K's lovefest with his players is never put in jeopardy. "How good was it for me to spend 148 games with Shane Battier?" asks Krzyzewski, referring to the 2000-01 season's consensus college player of the year. "Literally, over a thousand locker-room settings. How much is that worth, to be with that kid for four years? Or to be with Wojciechowski or Laettner or Hill or Hurley or..." he trails off. He's not crying, at least not yet.