The Duke’s name is Mike Krzyzewski Coach K’s first Blue Devils team went 17-13 in 1980-81 and lost to Purdue in the NIT game. It was the first of what would prove to be three consecutive seasons that Duke finished sixth or worse in the ACC and failed to make it to the NCAA.
Coach K’s early struggles have long been a familiar part of his legend. Then, in the 1982 draft, Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Jay Bilas arrived, and the rest is history. So the story goes.
But those who connected with that first team in the 1980s-81s, from players to reporters to Duke Athletics employees, say there’s more to it. They knew Coach K when he was 34 years old and learning from his ACC experience.
When Coach K is about to retire after the 2021-22 season is the most winning coach in men’s college basketball history, the first season in Durham deserves another look. Today, when members of that 1980-81 team are asked if they ever imagined back then their new coach would win five national titles, they usually answer with a shake of the head. . No one can imagine any coach having such a level of success.
“We all thought it was going to be Tom Davis”
KENNY DENNARD (senior forward 1980-81; played three seasons in the NBA for the Kansas City Kings and Denver Nuggets; CEO of investor relations firm Dennard Lascar): I met Coach at his K Academy this past summer. Of course, he has his people there, and he has me and Gene [Banks] to go through. He pointed at us and said, “I wish I could have had these men when I was in my 40s, because, when I had them, I didn’t know how to coach elite players.”
https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/insider/story/_/id/32637941/mike-krzyzewski-how-coach-k-legendary-career-began-duke-1980-81-season | Who is Mike Krzyzewski? How Coach K’s legendary career began at Duke during the 1980-81 season