INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — One by one, the grandchildren filed onto the court. One by one, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lifted them high into the air, never once worrying about his 68-year-old back.
He’ll have plenty of time to ice it later.
In one of those saccharine moments that make the Final Four so special, the sight of Coach K inside Lucas Oil Stadium after the Blue Devils beat Wisconsin 68-63 on Monday night for his fifth national championship made one thing clear: His program really is about family.
“He’s kept us all, you know, in the moment of this team,” said Quinn Cook, his senior guard. “It’s great to get him his fifth, but I know he’s happy that this is his first with us.
“It’s just something that you dream of,” he said, “winning the national championship.”
Few programs do that better than Duke these days. Few have the same winning pedigree.
The fact that Krzyzewski has continued to win those titles in an ever-evolving game — with one-and-dones, for instance — just may push him ahead of UCLA’s John Wooden in the pecking order of greatest coaches to have ever walked the sideline.
Krzyzewski’s wizardry is one takeaway from Monday night’s game. Here are some more:
FRESHMEN PHENOMS: Connecticut proved last year that you don’t need one-and-done stars to win a national title. Duke reminded everybody that it doesn’t hurt.
While nobody has announced that they are leaving school early, the freshman trio of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones will have decisions to make. Okafor could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and Winslow and Jones are also considered first-round talents.
“We do well with our players, wherever they’re from,” Krzyzewski said. “If they’re going to become pros, they all become good pros. They become good men.”
VETERANS HELP TOO: The Badgers came within minutes of winning their first title since 1941 on the backs of a bunch of gritty upper classmen, including player of the year Frank Kaminsky.
Another senior, Josh Gasser, played 36 minutes. Junior forward Sam Dekker had 12 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore standouts Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig earned valuable experience last year, when Wisconsin lost to Kentucky in the Final Four.
“We’re definitely one of the best teams in Wisconsin basketball history,” Hayes said. “We haven’t reached the level of the ’41 team with the title, but the guys we had, the awards we had, the accolades we received, I think we’ll be remembered.”
BENCH PLAY MATTERS: You can stock your roster with McDonald’s All-Americas, but sometimes it is the least-heralded guy in the bunch that you’ll need to rely on in the clutch.
Okafor and Winslow were mired in foul trouble and Wisconsin was pulling away Monday night when freshman Grayson Allen came alive. He scored eight points in a flurry, finished with 16 and kept the Blue Devils close enough for Okafor and Jones to take over down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin backup Traevon Jackson was just 1 for 7 from the field.
“Coach has told me all year to stay ready and practice,” said Allen, who had been averaging just four points a game. “You know, to be in the position where you’re coming off the bench, and these guys still support me and put confidence in me, I knew I was capable of doing it.”
PURSUING PERFECTION: People are more likely to remember the Badgers ruined Kentucky’s march to an undefeated season than the fact they lost to Duke in the national championship game.
After all, everybody remembers that the U.S. beat Russia in the 1980 Olympics. But how many people know that the Americans actually beat Finland to win the gold medal?
If nothing else, this season — and this NCAA Tournament — may have proven that perfection is unattainable. No team since Indiana in 1976 has accomplished the feat, not the UNLV juggernaut of 1991 or this year’s bunch of pro prospects from the Bluegrass State.
LOSING HURTS: While the Blue Devils celebrated on the court, and “One Shining Moment” played over the sound system, the Badgers were burying their faces in towels in their locker room.
Dekker fought back tears. Hayes could barely force a whisper.
The NCAA Tournament may bring in billions of dollars, and several players will soon make millions in the NBA. But the scene inside the losing locker room was a stark reminder of just how much losing hurts, no matter whether it’s the first weekend of the tournament or the last.
“I watched last year’s season-ending loss a lot,” Dekker said, “but I don’t think I’ll watch this one. If I do, it’ll be learning, you know, for myself. But I don’t want to go through this again, and think about the guys. I’ll probably throw this one out.”