DURHAM - Duke men's basketball associate head coach Jeff Capel will take the reins from Mike Krzyzewski on Friday following the announcement that he will undergo back surgery for a herniated disc. The procedure normally requires a four-week recovery.
Krzyzewski has stated that he will return when doctors clear him. So, what does that mean for Capel and for an already struggling basketball team? The Blue Devils will have the opportunity to audition one of the leading candidates to succeed Krzyzewski.
Fired at Oklahoma under the scrutiny of an NCAA investigation Capel has re-branded himself under the tutalege of the five-time National Champion coach. Many pundits consider the former All-ACC guard the linchpin of the 2015 National Championship team, having recruited most of the key members who comprised that squad to Durham.
Responsible for changing the culture around the program, he has made it, along with Kentucky, a chic destination for one and done talent. Before his arrival, Duke was winning with three and four year players, a formula necessitated by some high-profile recruiting misses. And while Krzyzewski's association with USA basketball has played a factor, many consider Capel's ability to build relationships with today's young talent the main reason for the turnaround.
The rather seamless transition into the one and done era has vaulted Capel into contention for the head position once the Hall-of-Fame coach retires. Succeeding this month could make him the favorite. That potential success will not come easy during this suddenly tumultuous season. Road games with nationally ranked Florida State, Louisville, and Notre Dame loom.
Capel could potentially still be coaching when rival North Carolina visits Cameron Indoor Stadium. The interim head coach is certainly no stranger to that storied rivalry. All Duke fans remember the teams valiant effort at upsetting the Tarheels during the 1995 season with Capel hitting a near half-court shot to send the game into overtime. Coincidentally, that game also occurred during a rare rough season in Durham during which Krzyzewski was again out for back surgery.
To navigate the treacherous road ahead the Blue Devils will need pre-season player of the year candidate Grayson Allen focused and buying in. Currently serving an indefinite suspension for multiple incidents and recently stripped of his captaincy, it's unclear when he will return.
One thing is certain: if Capel can help this talented but thus far troubled team gel and play to it's potential it will go a long way toward demonstrating that he is the right guy to replace Krzyzewski.