After more than four decades, tonight Mike Krzyzewski will coach his final game in venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium as Duke hosts North Carolina in the latest edition of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
As I’ve been reading all of the stories leading up to what will be the closing of a chapter in the history of The Old North State that can probably never be matched again, I thought about my own personal interactions with one of the greatest coaches in all of sports.
Yeah, that’s right. This “Tar Heel born and Tar Heel bred” boy is going to write something positive about Coach K and “Dook”.
There’s the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Campbell plays Duke at the Greensboro Coliseum in the first round. Only team to beat the point spread against Duke in that tournament.
Three games later, Christian Laettner hits “The Shot” on the Blue Devils journey to back-to-back national titles.
I’m one of the managers for the Fighting Camels. Just happy to be there. Could see him on the other end of the court. Never crossed paths.
From age 9 to 13, I attended the Campbell Basketball School and I’m pretty sure he may have been there at least once or twice.
So many coaches and players made at least an appearance at the summer camp founded by Campbell’s longtime coach Fred McCall, and his close friend John Wooden, that they all kind of ran together honestly. Yes, THAT John Wooden.
Later on during my broadcast career, there’s the multiple ACC Tournaments I covered. Too many big names, and helluva lot of better broadcasters and writers in the same room to even dare throw a question at K in those press conferences. Saw him cut down a few nets and lift a few trophies.
But the one memory that will always stick out is from Jan. 13, 1997.
Campbell heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time, and I’m on the call on WCCE-FM from the Crows Nest in the rafters. I drew the long straw, so I get to do the pregame interview with Krzyzewski.
That is, if he will grant us one. Something he didn’t have to do of course, especially for our little operation of student broadcasters.
But thanks to the legendary Voice of the Blue Devils, Bob Harris, who said to follow along when he went to tape his pregame conversation and he’d make sure I got some audio.
Little did I know we were going to be headed down into the depths of Cameron. Through the Duke locker room, and into the coaches room.
Bob and Coach K let me sit in on their interview, and then it was my turn.
Just a soon-to-be 24 year old from Currituck who had listened or watched just about every ACC basketball game he could since he can remember, and the soon-to-be winningest coach in the history of college basketball.
Interview is going like any of those pregame conversations you hear on every radio broadcast in the country.
Even got a “Great question!” and a smile when I asked which was more of a challenge and more fun: to coach a team that was made of superstars or guys who were lesser-known.
And while he’s in the middle of his answer…out of nowhere…Coach K is overcome with a sneeze.
DANG! How are we going to edit that out using the simple tape recorder I was using with less than 30 minutes before airtime?
Simple. Rewind it back. Coach K says “Let’s pick it up here.” Record over the sneeze he continues his answer like nothing happened.
What a pro! After we finished, he laughed about it with that grin and snicker he has dropped a thousand times in press rooms and interviews. From the Dunn Daily Record and WCCE, to the New York Times and ESPN.
No, I don’t have a clue where that cassette tape is. Which I’m kicking myself to this day for not having now to upload and listen to over and over again.
For all the hate over the years, there are so many stories and anecdotes that have been shared about Krzyzewski leading up to tonight’s final appearance on the court that bears his name that make it hard to be a hater.
Thanks Coach K. For what you’ve meant to the game we love so much. And for little things, like laughing off a sneeze.