In Kentucky, Duke is a four-letter word. It has been since March 28, 1992, the night of that game. Every college basketball fan knows exactly "what" game I mean: the regional final in Philadelphia between Duke and Kentucky that went into overtime and ended with Christian Laettner's last-second shot that went in and sent Duke to the Final Four and Kentucky fans home with a horrid taste in their mouths. That game is still discussed in Kentucky, and no doubt there'll be an effigy or two hung on the 20th anniversary of the game in 2012.
Let the Kentucky native and lifelong UK Wildcat fan (and someone who actually attended a University of Kentucky-affiliated community college for two semesters) now praise Coach Kroojawoosky (as a great parody of those old Bud Light commercials once pronounced it). Mike Krzyzewski is one of the true legends of the college basketball game. What is not to like (other than the fact that 99% of the population cannot spell nor pronounce his name -- it's M-I-K-E!)?
- His players graduate. In fact, Coach K refused to hang the 1992 championship banner until Laettner finished his final courses in summer school.
- His program is clean. Duke does things the right way. No scandal, no hint of a scandal, nothing The NCAA puts endless rules on coaches (everything short of what the coach can have for breakfast before he talks to a recruit), but Krzyzewski follows every one of those rules to the letter.
- His players are clean. Krzyzewski once said that he would not recruit someone who he didn't feel comfortable having around his family (and he's the father of three girls). He could probably get better players every year, but he'd also have to take some baggage with them, and he doesn't want to win that badly.
- HE is clean. He's been happily married for nearly 40 years. There's no Tiger Woods sex scandals and no Billy Gillispie drunk driving charges out there. Holy cow, Krzyzewski will actually be in church the day before his team plays for a national title!
- He is not Vince Lombardi. A famous quote of Lombardi's is, "If it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, then how come they keep score?" Sure, Krzyzewski wants his team to win -- him and 346 other Division I coaches. But Coach K realizes that being a winning human being is far more important than winning a basketball game.
- He is genuine. With all his success -- two gold medals for coaching Olympic basketball teams, three national titles, and induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 -- he still answers his fan mail. I know that for a fact: I have two letters from him and an autographed photo on my office wall.
Whether Duke cuts down the nets on Monday night or the Butler Bulldogs complete the Cinderella story, Duke fans can rest assured they are already winners because of the man who patrols the sidelines. And, as long as Mike Krzyzewski continues to coach college basketball, the game itself wins.