Slap The Floor Coaching

On the surface it's been the same old story in Durham this year with Duke rolling to a top 10 ranking and an impressive 21-4 overall record. But if you look below the surface, the 2011-2012 season has been anything but typical.

It's fitting that Mike Krzyzewski broke the all-time record for coaching wins with this year's Duke team.

Krzyzewski is emptying the quiver of coaching tricks this season in an effort to guide, cajole, and, at times, drag the 2011-12 Blue Devils to success.

Pound-for-pound, this year's team may have required more coaching than any Duke squad in recent memory, as Coach K and staff look to develop leadership, cobble together an effective defense, and help players find roles on the court.

On the surface, Duke is the picture of consistency and balance. Four players are in double figures, and until a recent Andre Dawkins tailspin, it was five players.

But they could also be a statistics professor's case study for the concept of standard deviation. While everyone is ending up in double figures, they've taken long and winding paths to get there.

Consider, in Quinn Cook's 24 games, he's scored in double figures five times and zero points six times. That means every other game is a feast or a famine. Seth Curry opened the season with six straight double figure games, then had five straight in single digits, before putting up a season-high 22.

In one five-game stretch, Ryan Kelly started three times, scoring 5, 9, and 8 points, and came off the bench twice, putting up 21 and 20. He made six straight 3-pointers at one point in the season and 2 of 12 at another.

"We're evolving," assistant Chris Collins said in an appearance on Raleigh sports radio's David Glenn Show. "We've been, throughout the year, trying to find the right mix—who to start, who to bring off the bench. Our level of play seems like, when a couple guys start playing well, a couple other guys start to struggle."

That's led to frequent lineup switches, as well as volcanic changes in playing time. Cook played 12 minutes one game, then started the next four. Andre Dawkins had stretches of 8 and 6 straight starts, and played 20 minutes or less in six of the other 11 games. Then there's Josh Hairston's line: He had a total of 9 points, 4 rebounds and 43 minutes over an eight game stretch, which included two DNPs. Then he started two games, then had 1 and 3 minutes off the bench in the two after that.

"We're not afraid to tinker and make changes to try to figure out the right formula," Collins said. "Until we play our final game, we'll be figuring this out."

Then there are the coaching tactics that don't show up in the stat line. While the team has gone on a self-imposed tweeting ban, Coach K is pushing buttons like a tween with a Blackberry.

He's built players up when talking about them to the media. He also ripped the team publicly after a loss to Temple and a closer-than-necessary win over St. John's. After the former, he put the team through a death march of practices and meetings, after the latter, he took away the private plane and bused them to Blacksburg, Virginia for the next game.

Other times, he's broken out the classics on video, motivating them for the stretch run with scenes from championship teams of the past, and giving them a speech that seemed straight out of Braveheart before sending them into the Dean Dome for an upset win over Carolina. "With 25,000 people against you, you have to be together or you'll get annihilated," he said.

He's also deflected pressure from the team at times, complaining about the effort of the fans in Cameron, or deflecting media questions that weren't a current point of emphasis with the team.

Lately, those points of emphasis have been on the team's lofty record despite all the struggles. He pointed out that Duke was 19-4 on last week's coaches teleconference, and repeatedly mentioned the team's 21-4 mark this week, each time punctuating it with, "so we must be doing something right."

He's also underscoring the importance of good instead of great, talking about the team's ability to be exceptional, then teasing the press when they asked too many questions about it.

When Krzyzewski was on the verge of breaking Bob Knight's record for coaching wins, he was asked about whether the pursuit of the mark was a distraction. "There's plenty of time to celebrate the record," he said, "but this is the only time that I can develop my team."

It turns out that wasn't entirely the case. Instead, he's spent the last four months developing his team, and the process still isn't complete.

This season, Krzyzewski has coached his rear end off, to borrow a phrase he might apply to one of his players. He's scratched and clawed to get everything out of a team that easily could have gotten mired in inexperience, inconsistency, and frustration. In other words, he's coached like a Duke player.

It may be the most fitting way he could celebrate his record.


The Devils Den Top Stories