Over his three-plus decades at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has seen plenty of changes, including the way that college students communicate.
“Electronics have changed the way they communicate,” Coach K said. “They don’t call. They text.”
That’s important for a coach to know, because it changes the way team chemistry is created. “When your developing relationships,” Krzyzewski said, “verbal communication is something that needs to be worked on more than in the past.”
A loosening of NCAA rules on team travel and an extended preseason that gives teams more free time allowed Coach K to use a new tactic to help his Blue Devils team bond.
For four days over Duke’s fall break, Krzyzewski took the basketball team on a trip to New York City. Unlike summer overseas trips, like the trip to China two seasons ago, the Blue Devils didn’t play exhibition games. Other than a few practices, the team got to play tourist.
“It was great,” sophomore captain Rodney Hood said. “One of the best experiences of my life. We got to go into the World Trade Center, visit the Apollo Theater. We went to Rucker Park and got to see a Broadway show. It was just a great team bonding experience.”
“Mississippi was the closest I ever got to New York,” Hood continued. “My freshman year, we played in Madison Square Garden, but this was my first time actually seeing the inside of New York City. I’d only seen it from the television set.”
The team also traveled to West Point, Coach K’s alma mater.
“When you travel as a family, you sometimes go and visit someplace that was important for the mother or father, and the kids get a better feeling for it,” Krzyzewski explained of the West Point trip. “That wasn’t the main reason we went. The main reason was to see people striving for excellence in different venues.”
“The common theme was teamwork,” K continued. “Working together, having high standards—to see that in different locales and how people go about doing that.”
The players picked up on the theme.
“We watched Motown,” senior captain Tyler Thornton said. “There were some actors with 30 different scenes, playing different characters. Coach wanted us to see how those guys know what they’re supposed to do at that moment, how they could mess up if they’re thinking about something else. What we do is easy, compared to that. It’s a lot more simplified.”
“They do it eight times a week,” Krzyzewski reiterated. “If they can do that, why wouldn’t we be able to learn five out-of-bounds plays?”
The players didn’t just get to take pictures. They were able to pick the brains of the people responsible for what they were seeing. “We met a lot of people associated with the Duke brand who have had success in other walks of life,” Thornton said. “What the guys found out is the determination and dedication those guys have is the same as what coach has and what the great Duke teams in past had. Those things don’t change no matter what.”
The World Trade Center construction site was a highlight of the trip.
“They said it was the highest point in the Western Hemisphere,” Hood said. “To be able to go to the 105th floor, looking down at New York City, I was a little scared, but at the same time, it was a great experience.”
The trip also had an impact on Krzyzewski.
“To be on the 105th floor,” he said. “To go up in a construction elevator, and when you look down, it looks like Google earth, and the wind is blowing. And then, all of a sudden, you’re hearing from (John) Ryan, who’s in charge of the Port Authority Police. He was in charge of the rescue effort on 9/11. To not just hear his words but feel his words—when he talked, it was raw.”
The idea of experiencing and feeling the message was important to the learning experience.
“Our student athletes don’t get a chance to go abroad,” Krzyzewski said. “I’d say more than half the kids at Duke go for a semester abroad. It’s part of their education. Athletes can’t do that. This type of experience is a little bit like that. You don’t just learn from a book. You learn by hearing and feeling”
Krzyzewski said he plans to take Team USA on a trip to experience West Point before heading to Spain next summer.
“When I coach the US team, I try to take them to different places where they can feel,” Krzyzewski said. “If you feel something, you can end up owning it. And if you own it, it becomes yours.”
Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com