INDIANAPOLIS — He wore it proudly on his right hand. A constant — yet heavy — reminder of what happened the last time he took Duke to the Final Four. The last time he brought his Blue Devils here to play for a national title.
Mike Krzyzewski is fortunate enough to have four of those rings to choose from and it’s not a coincidence why he chose the 2010 national championship ring to sport all tournament long.
“I’ve worn it throughout the tournament just as a reminder to me and to our team of our ultimate goal — to win a national championship,” Krzyzewski said. “Usually I don’t wear a ring on my right fingers, but I did for the tournament. Not for luck or anything, just as a constant reminder of what it is.”
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The 2010 edition is diamond encrusted as any other with the Duke logo seemingly swimming in those studs. On one side: Coach K’s name with ACC champions. On the other: 35-5 with national champions.
Two more wins in Indianapolis would get Coach K back to that total of 35 wins — a benchmark his Blue Devils’ teams have reached four times in the past, the last coming in 2010.
While it didn’t take 35 wins to take home his first national title in 1991 — a mere 32 wins did the trick that year — it did happen right here in Indianapolis. Remember that guy named Grant Hill? All those Blue Devils did was hand UNLV its first loss of the season in the semifinals before going on to beat Kansas two nights later in the national championship game. A year before, UNLV stomped the Blue Devils by 30 for the 1990 title.
To win championship No. 5, Coach K may have to beat another undefeated team. Ya know, the other team that wears blue.
“I haven’t really watched Kentucky,” Krzyzewski said. “Monday is not a given for either one of us. It’s an earned opportunity. I think we would both be happy to play whoever is there on Monday. I’d rather not speak to Kentucky, although I will say this: John [Calipari] has done an amazing job with his group, and it’s been good for college basketball in that you’ve been talking about a team instead of talking about freshmen or individuals.”
Going 2-for-2 at Final Fours held in this state is as good a reason as any to like this place. The grass is greener, the sun shines brighter … the Crossroads of America is perfect in Coach K’s eyes. And why not?
“To come back here, again, I think this is the best place to have [the Final Four],” Krzyzewski said. “Nothing against any other place. It starts with the state of Indiana. They just love the game of basketball. Indianapolis is where the NCAA is headquartered. Everything’s within walking distance. It’s terrific.”
Coach K even has a win in this city this year, against the same opponent the Blue Devils will see on Saturday night. It didn’t come in Lucas Oil Stadium in front of 70,000-plus people, but the 81-71 win against Michigan State back in November in the Champions Classic is just another reminder of his success here.
Both teams are different after a grueling five months.
“I don’t think there’s any question, they’ve improved like they should have because of [Jahlil Okafor],” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “He brings them along well. I think we’re both not completely different, but I think we’re a lot better than we were back then. Yet it was really good for us because we didn’t know as much, although I’m not sure he did either, about his freshmen. It’s easy for you guys to say all these freshmen are going to pan out, but that doesn’t always happen. I think it was good for us.”
“I haven’t really watched that much of that game. I think we’re both different teams,” Krzyzewski later added. “We have different strategies because we have different teams. It’s much better to watch them in the NCAA [tournament] than in some of their Big Ten games. But the game helped us because the Champions Classic, actually three of the teams are here, prophetic that three of them got here.”
When asked about the ring on his finger on Friday, Coach K corrected a writer who had asked what was on his “right finger.”
“The ring I’m wearing — I actually have more than one right finger, so I’m not a one-finger guy,” Krzyzewski concluded.
If things go like they usually do in this city for him, he’ll have a ring for every finger on that right hand. All five of them.