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More On The Winged Foot

Christopher also went and sends his impressions. Thanks!!

I had the pleasure of being in attendance last night at the New York Athletic Club where Coach K was presented with the Winged Foot Award. This award is in its sixth year and honors the coach of the Division I NCAA Men's basketball champion. Prior winners are Pitino, Olson, Smith (Tubby), Calhoun and Izzo.

The event was MC'd by Billy Packer and had scheduled speakers Bobby Hurley, Elton Brand, Dr. Keith Brodie, Ryan Caldbeck, JD Simpson, Pam Valvano and Mike Jarvis. A crowd of about 300 was in attendance including Elton's mom, Chris Collins, Wojo, Coach's wife, Mickie, Tom Emma and a handful of other familiar faces that I could not place.

It was truly a special night and I thought I'd share some of the highlights (which were many, so this may get painfully long).

Although the night centered around K's accomplishments, most of the speakers focused on Coach "the person". In a touching speech, Pam Valvano talked about how much Mike meant to the Valvano family during Jimmy's last months. She recounted how Jim's face would light up when Coach K walked into his hospital room. She and the girls would leave the room and allow Mike and Jim the time to share in their special friendship. She told a story about how the two of them talked non-stop on the airplane enroute to New York where Jim gave his now memorable "don't ever give up" speech at the ESPY's. And, in Jim's death, she hopes that some people will find a blessing. She told the audience, that as you chase your dreams, don't ever forget the important things in life, like your family and friends. Coach later admitted to getting teary eyed at Pam's tribute.

Hurley, who spoke very briefly, talked about how Coach was there for him following his car accident and how Coach would drop everything just to be on the other end of the phone to help guide him through his struggles in the NBA (which he admitted, wasn't much fun).

Although neither Pam nor Bobby provided anything really new to anyone familiar with the Duke family, hearing these words come directly from the source was very powerful.

We also heard a good deal about Mike "the coach". JD and Ryan called him a great teacher and relayed the story about the 6am practice following the home Maryland loss where Boozer broke his foot. Ryan (or was it JD?) said that they could have easily "thrown in the towel" as they had the perfect excuse (in losing one of their best players). But, Coach told them that if they listened to him and gave with their hearts, he would lead them to a National Championship.

Elton, who was looking quite sharp, talked about the impact that Coach had on him and told the story about being benched early in his sophomore season. The team was in Alaska for a preseason tournament and was "struggling" (I guess the heartbreaking last second loss to Cincy?) and Coach asked Elton to "step it up." When Brand did not respond ("although I was still averaging 17 a game"), Coach benched him. The rest, as they say, is history. Packer then skillfully noted what a great job K did in handling Bobby Hurley, who, too, was struggling early in his sophomore year. Personally, I recall watching Duke lose to Arkansas at the Garden early in the '90-'91 season and thinking that this Hurley kid was not going to work out and that Coach needed to turn the point over to McCaffrey. Packer pointed out that 2 and a half years later, Hurley ended his career as the NCAA all-time leader in assists.

Mike Jarvis, who was perhaps the most dynamic speaker (with the quickest wit), talked about Coach's character. He told the story of Coach telling the students, prior to a St. John's visit to Cameron, to lay off Eric Barkley and his troubles with the NCAA. Jarvis said that had he been in K's position, he did not think that he would have been able to do the same. Again, an old story, but to hear it from Jarvis really hit home. He also mentioned that Coach excels at "MSFI" (making someone feel important). Whether it's his team, fellow coaches, the University or even all of college basketball, Mike always manages to make everyone feel good about what they are doing.

Although the night was a "toast" to Coach (and not a "roast"), there was no shortage of humor. Hurley's first remarks at the podium were "I'm about to make a lot of the speakers up here look real good." And, "if you're lucky, my speech won't last any longer than my horse led at the Derby." Brand told a story about Coach coming up to Peekskill to watch him in a high school game and "I only scored 3 points." After a brief pause, he added, "and, it was a 3 pointer". After another pause, "I haven't made one since". He also reminded the audience that the Bulls "just missed the playoffs this year." Collins took a couple of shots at Packer saying, "I didn't realize what a big deal this [event] was until Billy said something nice about Duke". And, in talking about the Duke/Wake game this year, where Duhon hit a runner in the final seconds to win, Collins said, "that's the best Wake has played since the 20's when they were led by Packer."

Coach then spoke for about 20 minutes and started out talking about this year's team. He said repeatedly, "I loved my team." And, just as importantly, "they loved one another." He took pride in announcing that all four seniors from this year's team graduated. He talked about the atmosphere that he has tried to create at Duke with emphasis on teamwork. He said that he surrounds himself with the best ("this year's staff was the best staff I've ever had"), noting that Dawkins, Collins and Wojo all led their respective teams in assists and know what it is like to be unselfish and play as a team. He went on to stress the importance of generating an environment of unconditional love where everyone supports one another and you are not afraid to lose. He added that this applies whether it's your family, church group or team. He talked about how earlier in his career he used to be afraid of losing. But, then in the early 90's, with the "toughest kid I've ever coached" in Bobby Hurley, Coach learned about the fear of losing. Coach would be in a huddle and catch the look in Hurley's eyes and his fear would be relieved and he'd tell himself, "damn, we're going to win." As I listened to this, I could almost see this happening in the '90 UConn game, the '91 UNLV game and the '92 Kentucky game

He also emphasized the importance of playing instinctively. With Hurley, 8 out of 10 scripted plays would not go according to plan. But it always worked out because Hurley was such an instinctive player. It was this lesson that he learned from the Hurley years that allowed him to throw out the playbook early in the semi's versus Maryland and tell his team to play like you know how to play. He compared Jason Williams to Hurley saying that both are outstanding instinctive players. And, then to the approval of the crowd, he compared Hurley's huge 3 pointer in the '91 semi versus UNLV with Williams' 3 that clinched this year's title game against Arizona.

But, the theme to Coach's talk is one that he stresses over and over and that is, "you are not whole until you become part of something bigger than yourself".

All in all a most special night.