Over the past 40+ years, Mike Krzyzewski has built a basketball empire at Duke with 35 NCAA Tournament berths, 12 Final Four appearances, and five national title victories to his name.
In that same time, Krzyzewski has seen a long list of his assistant coaches rise up the coaching ladder and become head coaches elsewhere, including Pitt’s Jeff Capel, who coached at Duke from 2011-18 after playing for the Blue Devils from 1993-97.
“Jeff is outstanding,” Krzyzewski said on Monday. “I thought when he played for me, that he would be somebody that I would want on my staff at Duke. Like Tommy [Amaker], and Johnny [Dawkins], David [Henderson], and all the guys who were on my staff. He was able to, at a really young age in his late twenties, get the job at VCU and really build that program. So Jeff is the one who really got things started there at VCU, so he was an outstanding recruiter there. He’s an outstanding person and coach, so that makes him a heck of a recruiter. He checks all of the boxes at a high level for being an outstanding coach.”
The two go all the way back to the early 90s, back when Krzyzewski was recruiting Capel while he was playing high school ball in Fayetteville, North Carolina. However, while coaching together on the Duke staff, Capel and Krzyzewski developed a relationship that was much different than the one created back when Capel was recruited and when he played at Duke.
“You’re going to find out he’s a man, he’s an adult, he is who he is now,” Krzyzewski said. “All these guys, they’re young men when you have them as a coach, and then when you share an occupation when you share a staff together, you find out about them and their family. I love Jeff and his family, we’re family. That’s what I have found, is that we are great, great friends. But I am not just friends with him, I am friends with his wife, and his kids, his two daughters and his son, so you just get a lot deeper, personally, with the guys. And to become friends with the guys that you coach has been a really cool thing to do.”
The two will face off for the final time during the regular season on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in the Petersen Events Center.
While Krzyzewski’s upcoming retirement is certainly the big story revolving Duke now, he is still staying focused on the Blue Devils’ next game, as he always has.
“My total focus is on Pitt,” he said. “I don’t look at a week, I look at my next opponent, and I have done that once I learned how to coach a few decades ago. That’s what I do. Part of it is dealing with that game and then what happens before during and after the game, and then hopefully doing a good job with all three of those things and then moving on again. I’m not going to change in that regard, so we’ve always evoked a lot of attention, maybe a little bit more, so it’s something I have had the honor of dealing with for a good part of my career, but Pitt is really the only thing on my mind right now.”