Coach K thanks defeated Duke players after 'amazing' final game: 'I'll be fine'

By Sports Desk April 03, 2022

Mike Krzyzewski deflected attention away from the final game of his 42-year Duke career and thanked his players for reminding him why he will miss basketball despite a Final Four defeat to rivals North Carolina.

'Coach K' was bidding for a sixth NCAA Tournament championship in the last season of his legendary career but fell at the penultimate hurdle.

UNC had beaten Duke in Krzyzewski's final home game and repeated the feat on Saturday in an 81-77 upset of the second seeds.

Remarkably, it was the Tar Heels' 50th win against Krzyzewski's Duke, levelling the 100-game series in its final edition.

Krzyzewski was understandably the centre of attention after the game but sought to instead put his players in the spotlight, insisting: "I'm not thinking about my career right now."

He said: "It's not about me, especially right now. As a coach, I'm just concerned about these guys. I mean, they're already crying on the court, and that's the only thing you can think about.

"Then going into the locker room, I've said my entire career – or when I knew what the hell I was doing – that I wanted my seasons to end where my team was either crying tears of joy or tears of sorrow because then you knew that they gave everything.

"And I had a locker room filled with guys who were crying, and it's a beautiful sight. It's not the sight that I would want – I'd want the other – but it's a sight that I really respect and makes me understand just how good this group was."

It was Duke's seventh loss of the season, all against unranked teams, making the Blue Devils the first top-10 team to lose to seven unranked opponents in a season since the poll was expanded to 25 teams in 1989-90.

But Krzyzewski added: "They did not win tonight, but they came through in an unbelievable fashion."

Indeed, reflection on his feelings after the game was the closest Krzyzewski came to considering the end of his career in front of the media.

"I'll be fine. I've been blessed to be in the arena," he said. "And when you're in the arena, you're either going to come out feeling great or you're going to feel agony, but you always will feel great about being in the arena.

"And I'm sure that that's the thing when I'll look back that I'll miss. I won't be in the arena anymore. But, damn, I was in the arena for a long time. And these kids made my last time in the arena an amazing one."

Predicted lottery pick Paolo Banchero tried his best to extend his coach's career, scoring 20 points and claiming 10 rebounds.

"Being able to go to war with Coach and the team for the whole season, he was so committed to us all year," Banchero said.

"He never made it about him. And you're just proud that we were able to go out and fight, be in a fight with Coach every game.

"You don't get time to think about it right now, but I'm sure, when we look back on it, we're going to be proud that we got to play for him. And he had our back the whole year, had our back every game, put a lot of trust in us, always believed in us."

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