CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For Jeff Capel, he considers three men to be the most influential in his life.
One is his father. Another is his grandfather.
And the third in Mike Krzyzewski, the man who has won more games than anyone else in men’s Division I college basketball.
“He’s had an unbelievably profound impact on my life,” Capel said Tuesday at the ACC Tip-Off event in Charlotte. “I find myself now as a husband, as a father, really leaning back on a lot of the things that I learned from him as a player.”
A native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Capel committed to Duke as a recruit in the spring of his junior year of high school. He played four years for Krzyzewski, starting in 106 of the 129 games he played in as a Blue Devil. Capel posted career averages of 12.4 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per-game, helping Krzyzewski capture 83 of his 1,170 career victories. Capel was then a Duke assistant from 2011 through 2018, helping Coach K win another national title in 2015.
Krzyzewski announced last spring that the 2021-22 season – his 46th – would be his last as the coach of the Duke Blue Devils. After this season, current Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer will take the reins of the program.
“My mind is on this season, and when it’s over, I’ll know that it’s my last,” Coach K said Tuesday.
Since arriving in Durham, North Carolina in 1980 – following five seasons as the coach of his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point – Krzyzewski led the Blue Devils to five national championships, a total of 12 Final Four appearances, 15 ACC tournament titles and 12 regular season ACC championships. Coach K was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, and he also led Team USA to a trio of Olympic gold medals.
For Capel, no other coach has touched the game the way Krzyzewski has.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s had the impact on basketball – as big an impact – as him,” Capel said. “When you look at the impact that he’s had on putting guys in the NBA, but also at the international level, what he did with USA Basketball; completely revamping it, then the success that those guys individually were able to go and have after playing for him. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s touched the game like that. You know, he’s a guy that’s always loved coaching and helping people.”
Last season, Capel was one of nine former Krzyzewski-coached players that was a head coach in Division I men’s college basketball or in the NBA.
Capel never coached against Krzyzewski in his previous two head coaching stops – at VCU and Oklahoma – but is 1-2 against him since taking over the Panthers in 2018. When Pitt beat the Blue Devils last January 79-73, Capel became just the second Duke assistant and first former player to get a win over Krzyzewski.
“He genuinely cares about the players that he coaches. The relationships are very important to him. And it’s not a show. It’s significant. It means a lot to him,” Capel said. “There’s no way I thought at 17 that, at 46, the man I chose to play for would – A, still be coaching, and B, that I’d be friends with him. I never would’ve imagined that.”
Pitt plays Duke just once this season, hosting the Blue Devils on March 1 in a game televised by the ACC Network. It’s the final home game of the regular season for Capel’s Panthers, and it’ll likely be the last time he and his mentor are on opposing sidelines.
“He’s had a profound impact on my life and on all the people that have been fortunate enough to play for him, so I wish him luck,” Capel said. “Except for one game.”