The Way of K

Inside the mind of Mike Krzyzewski, the boardroom darling who built Duke into a hoops dynasty--and now carries the nation's sporting pride on his clipboard

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The pressing question: Can a college coach who has been able to impose tight control over pliant 18-year-olds meld the egos of millionaire NBA megastars? After all, several top college coaches have fired air balls in the pros. Krzyzewski's favorite wink-wink reply: "I'm a millionaire too." The early results look good; the team has bought into Krzyzewski's selfless, defense-first philosophy, evidenced in blowouts of China and Puerto Rico and a gritty 90-86 win over Brazil in warm-up games. The ex-Army point guard from Chicago has mixed in motivational ploys--a speech by a soldier blinded in Iraq moved many players to tears-- while being careful not to overdo the rah-rah stuff. "We haven't gone on a canoe trip," quips K. "We'll bond on the court."

The players say Coach K is a breath of fresh air after Larry Brown's reign as national- team coach. "There are no restraints on this team," says Wade, an Athens vet who contends that Brown discouraged him from trying to score too much. "That was kind of our problem in '04. One guy could do this, another guy couldn't." Krzyzewski's vibe has fired up the team; the practices are crisp and competitive. "The way he can connect with everybody, it's unbelievable," says Brad Miller, Team USA big man (at 7 ft.), who plays for the Sacramento Kings. "I'd have our [NBA] team pay him a couple of grand to talk to us."

He'd have to up the ante--Krzyzewski commands up to $100,000 a speech, and his name even graces an academic arm, the Fuqua/ Coach K Center of Leadership & Ethics at Duke. All this for a guy who teaches men in shorts how to toss balls through a hoop. "He talks about character issues that are soulful," says Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, whose managing directors--"a pretty cynical group," he notes-- raved about a recent Krzyzewski talk. "It's about honesty, it's about love, and often times, in the big world, you don't see many leaders get up and talk about things like that." Mack equates Krzyzewski's leadership skills to those of legends like IBM's Lou Gerstner and GE's Jack Welch.

Krzyzewski's ease in the boardroom wins him praise, but critics claim that it was his silence in the wake of Duke's lacrosse scandal this past March that spoke volumes. Three lacrosse players have been charged with raping a woman at a raunchy team party, costing the team its season and hurting Duke's image. Where was Coach K, who serves as special assistant to the university's president and is the most visible man in Durham, N.C.? Krzyzewski says he worked behind the scenes to help the school handle the crisis. But publicly, he stayed mum and was criticized for it. He says that interjecting himself into the case would have inflamed the anti-Duke, anti-K contingent, especially at the University of North Carolina and other competing schools. "In [the Durham] area, I am like a lightning rod for some things, because there are a lot of Carolina fans or whatever," he says, a few hours before his first address to the "K Academy," a four-day adult fantasy camp for all things Duke basketball (cost: $10,000). "I would not want whatever I said to polarize the community because, 'Well, I don't like him anyway.'" Krzyzewski broke his silence in June, questioning the findings of a committee that called on Duke to rethink its aggressive recruitment of athletes. He promises to be more vocal this fall.

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