As he prepares for the upcoming season, we sat down with Coach Wojciechowski for an exclusive interview.
You were a Duke recruit, player, and now coach. How much has the program changed since you were first recruited in 1994?
Steve Wojciechowski: It is hard for me to believe that I have been a part of the Duke program for close to twenty years! There have been a lot of changes during that time. While our players still get to compete in one of the most amazing venues in sport in Cameron Indoor Stadium they also now have access to a world class practice facility which aids in their growth and development both on and off the court. The facility improvements allow us to provide every resource a student-athlete could want as they pursue their passions and manage their busy schedules.
And yet, for all the changes, what has stayed the same throughout these two decades?
As much as the program has grown and evolved since 1994, there is one constant that stays the same – the quality of people in and around our program. I can remember when I was being recruited by Duke what a great feeling I had when I met the members of the Duke community, coaches, players, and support staff. It truly felt like a place that could be a "home away from home". I believe that our players and parents still feel that way when they are around the people of our school and program.
Coach K will be back with Team USA for a third time, and I assume you will be as well. It's been a number of years of dual commitment for you guys. Were you surprised that he came back?
I was thrilled for Coach K and the Duke program that he decided the lead the USA Men's National Team for another four years. Having been with him during the previous two Olympics, I can tell you his involvement in the USA basketball program has been great for both him personally and our program as a whole.
How has it benefitted the program in your opinion?
Coach K is always looking for ways to get better, even with all he has accomplished, and USA basketball has been a way for him to grow and develop as coach and leader. It is very exciting for him! I am not sure I have ever seen his passion for coaching and leading at Duke and with the national program burn brighter.
What about you, specifically? How have you benefitted from this?
It is inspiring for a younger coach to see the person I consider the greatest coach of all time work so hard and with so much passion as he teaches the guys in our Duke program on a daily basis. I think USA basketball is a big part of him wanting to do that at this stage in his career.
Coach - odd to say that - Jon Scheyer joined the program this year. As someone who has been in his shoes before (new coach and former player), what does he bring to the coaching staff?
It is great having Jon Scheyer back at Duke. Jon is going to be an amazing coach. He has a true passion for the game of basketball, is very smart and hard-working, and has the ability to form meaningful relationships. He is going to help our program in a number of ways. He knows Duke, went through a wide range of experiences as a Duke player and figured out how to be a champion, and is recognizable at every level of basketball. It is truly a grand slam having him join our staff. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with guys I played with and coached. Jeff, Nate, and Jon are big time in every sense of the word.
Turning to the upcoming season, the team lost a lot of senior leadership this off-season. What is going to be the toughest thing to replace?
Mason, Ryan, and Seth were an amazing senior class. What they did, individually and collectively, for our team and program last year was just fantastic.
As good as they were on the court, the thing we have a chance of missing the most about them is their maturity on a day to day basis. They were men – they did what they were supposed to do, when they were supposed to do it to the best of their ability – often times under adverse circumstances. We need guys to step up and be leaders, create the positive environment, and be there every day at their best.
Is that process (of developing leaders) organic? Are there guys you, as coaches, are pushing to answer that call?
I believe it has to start with our senior class. They should have an unmatched urgency to be champions. We also have several younger guys who have good leadership potential. I am so excited to see how we grow in that area.
Given the changes in roster dynamics, it seems Duke will play a different kind of style. We've heard a lot about what that means on offense, but what about the defensive side of things?
We love the potential of our team. We believe we have versatility, athleticism, interchangeable parts, and depth. We probably have more of those characteristics than we have had in recent years. When Coach K has had those traits in the past it has usually translated into a very aggressive, attacking style of defense where we have had the ability to create offense with our defense. I would expect and hope that would be a big part of this year's identity. It is a really fun and exciting way to play.