Faces on the bench: A game watching Coach K

The Duke head coach's reactions provide a unique commentary on this year's team writes Shawn Krest...

The hands lift up, but the wrists never break.

If Mike Krzyzewski was a batter, his check swing would have stopped in time. Several times during the game against Gardner Webb--after a Jabari Parker dunk, an Andre Dawkins three, an impressive Semi Ojeleye block—the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium explodes with joy.

To Coach K's left, assistant coach Jeff Capel stands, pumps his fist, and yells encouragement to players. On Krzyzewski's right, the more fiery assistant, Steve Wojciechowski, leaps to his feet, shouting.

In the middle of this storm, Krzyzewski's hands lift off of his lap. They turn to face each other and then pause—a clap interrupted.

In the time it takes a person to applaud once, Mike Krzyzewski has already moved on to the next play.

In college basketball, where the best players are gone after one season, the coaches often become the star of the show. When the ACC expanded to include Syracuse and Notre Dame, people talked about Jim Boeheim and Mike Brey joining the league, not C.J. Fair and Jerian Grant.

The coaches talk at halftime, and postgame. Their press conference rants lead SportsCenter. During games, they also put on a show, shouting at refs, and their own players, throwing jackets and pounding clipboards.

But just as the dunks and threes make the highlights but are just a small piece of a basketball game, coach antics on the sidelines are far from their only activity during a game.

So for one non-conference game that was well in hand by late in the first half, we ignored the action on the court and kept an eye on college basketball's all-time wins leader.

"Switch!" It's the most common word spoken by Krzyzewski in the first half. With the Blue Devils playing defense right in front of him, Coach K's eyes dart from player to player. He motions to Quinn Cook, guarding a man off the ball, and moves him a few steps closer to the lane.

Then Krzyzewski returns his attention to the on-ball defense and is not happy. Despite being down 17, just over 10 minutes into the game, Gardner Webb is on its way to shooting 62.5% in the first half.

"Jerome Hill was good, nine of 10 (from the field)," Gardner Webb coach Tim Craft said of his leading scorer. "They were switching pick-and-rolls, and he was able to score a little bit on those switches."

Indeed, Duke is struggling to switch defenders when Gardner Webb sets screens, resulting in open jumpers and a revolving door for the Blue Devils at the scorer's table.

Krzyzewski tries to emphasize the importance of switching in a variety of ways. When Jabari Parker doesn't rotate over, K calls down the bench to have Josh Hairston check in for the freshman.

The next stoppage in play allows Hairston to enter and also produces a media time out. Krzyzewski meets his team as they come toward the bench to huddle up. "Listen!" he urges. (At the next time out, he'll again comes out to greet them, that time with, "Switch on ball screens!") At the end of the time out, five Duke players, including Hairston, go back onto the floor, and Krzyzewski talks briefly to Parker before allowing him to take his seat on the bench.

When the more subtle motivators fail, Krzyzewski resorts to telling the players when to switch in real time. He shouts from the bench, reminding them on each ball screen.

When Amile Jefferson misses an assignment, allowing another easy basket, he runs past the Duke bench and gets a reminder shouted to him from Krzyzewski.

Cook, bringing the ball up, waits at midcourt for Jefferson to catch up. Cook shrugs and tells him, "You've got to switch." Hairston reenters the game at the next dead ball.

There are so many substitutions resulting from missed defensive assignments, Krzyzewski has to make a point of telling players they aren't being punished when they're removed from the game just to get a rest. He claps and tells Tyler Thornton, "Good job," when he comes out of the game. He tells Matt Jones, "It's okay," when the player he's defending hits a jumper just before Jones leaves the game. (His sub was already waiting at the table before the shot was taken.)

Late in the game, Marshall Plumlee, whose intensity frequently careens out of control, fights to get an offensive rebound on a missed free throw, then throws the ball away, leading to a Gardner Webb rebound. The visitors call an immediate time out, and Krzyzewski holds up both hands to a dejected Plumlee as he heads to the huddle. "It's okay," Krzyzewski says. He would mention Plumlee's offensive rebound in his postgame press conference, but not the turnover.

In addition to calling out switches, Krzyzewski talks to his point guards while play is going on. Thornton pauses in front of the bench in the first half to get the play before crossing half court. Krzyzewski also stood and pointed out the route around a screen for Rodney Hood in the second half. He also pointed to a spot on the left side of the lane where, a few seconds later, Hood banked in a short jumper. On the play before that shot, Hood set a screen near the bench. Krzyzewski tried to tell him something, but Hood appeared to miss the message. After an offensive rebound, Duke ran the same play, and Krzyzewski again spoke to Hood and pointed the way.

Krzyzewski offered encouragement from the bench, urging his players to keep their intensity up against an overmatched opponent. As the team milled around getting into position on free throws, Coach K would single out a Duke player, make eye contact, and then pump his fists while pulling his face into a grimace. And, while he didn't react to the plays that brought the house down, he jumps out of his seat and claps for each charge.

When Jefferson goes to the line, Krzyzewski calls to him, "You've got this."

The infamous temper made a few appearances. He shouts out an unfriendly phrase after a Duke player makes a silly foul. When Duke turns the ball over on a five-second inbound call, Krzyzewski stomps his foot and shouts at Amile Jefferson. On yet another missed defensive switch, he turns around and smacks the seat of his chair.

His left leg seems to be Coach K's tell. He straightens his pants leg on that side when he's feeling anxious, and, on particularly exasperating plays, he pulls his left knee to his chest and leans back in his chair.

After one particularly brutal defensive sequence, Krzyzewski sends in three subs, then greets the players leaving the court with, "What are you doing?"

Wojo seems to be the assistant he vents to during games, turning to his right and speaking after missed free throws, fouls, and turnovers. Wojo, who usually seems more perturbed than Krzyzewski, tends to agree each time.

Knowing he's frequently shown on the television broadcast, and possibly suspecting he's being watched intently from press row, Krzyzewski leans his chin on his hand, appearing to rest, while he speaks to Wojo with his mouth covered. He does that when Jefferson attempts a putback, only to be rejected by the underside of the rim.

When Krzyzewski talks to Capel, it seems to be more observational and asides, based on when in the game the exchanges occur.

The outcome is never really in doubt, so the referees don't get the usual dialogue from the Duke bench, but that's not to say they escaped unscathed. "C'mon, Tony!" Krzyzewski yells to Tony Greene.

When Jefferson is called for an offensive foul late in the half, Krzyzewski jumps up, with his arms wrapped around each side of his head. He stays standing and says something in the Ray Natali's ear while standing directly behind him. Natali smirks before breaking into laughter, and Krzyzewski gives him an annoyed shake of the head before sitting back down.

A couple plays later, a Gardner Webb player is unquestionably fouled by Quinn Cook, but Krzyzewski tries to convince the officiating crew that the player traveled before getting hit. He walks toward the official closest to him, making the traveling signal, then discusses the issue with another official, across the court, while play is going on.

Rodney Hood hits a buzzer beater to put Duke up by 14 at the half, and Krzyzewski heads to the locker room hitting his wrist with his other hand, trying to make a case that Hood was fouled on the shot.

When the dust clears, Duke is on the positive end of a 19-point win. Krzyzewski tells the media he was pleased by what he saw. He mentions a three that Gardner Webb hit on an out-of-bounds play as one of the few blemishes. He doesn't mention that Capel jumped up and stomped his foot before the ball was passed inbounds, seeing before the fact what was about to happen.

The players seemed to get the message that Krzyzewski and staff were communicating during the game. "We got them into a comfortable place (for us) and then didn't put on the gas," Jabari Parker says. "We kind of shied away from being aggressive."

"We let down a little bit on defense tonight," Hood says.

The players seem down, despite the relatively smooth path to victory.

"Winning's great," Tyler Thornton says, "but we've got to do things the way the coaches want us to. For us to be great, guys has got to be sharp on both ends of the floor. There were spots tonight where we weren't."

"That's why our program has been where it is," Thornton adds, "Excellence over 40 minutes."

When they get there, maybe their coach will have less to be worried about, and maybe, just maybe, those hands will get to meet, and finish the clap he wanted to start.


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