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Home Grown Help

Sometimes good assistants are right under your nose

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NCAA Basketball: Maine at Duke
The all-Duke Blue Devil staff, L-R: Nate James, Jeff Capel, Mike Krzyzewski, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Krzyzewski reconstituted his coaching staff immediately upon returning to the bench in the fall of 1995, having missed the final few months of the preceding season sorting through the painful physical and mental consequences of back surgery.

By the ’98 season Duke’s entire corps of assistant coaches was comprised of former Blue Devils players under Krzyzewski – that year Quin Snyder, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson. Tommy Amaker, already on the staff for seven years before the reshuffle began, departed to become head coach at Seton Hall in 1997-98. Tim O’Toole, who hadn’t played at Duke, also left.

When Krzyzewski began remaking his staff in his own image, or rather that of his program, the move drew predictable, reasonable criticism.

Even though it was really no one else’s business whom the coach selected as his support staff, the fact he chose younger men who had learned much from him was portrayed in some quarters as a compromise of objectivity and creativity.

The ex-Dukies who surrounded him wouldn’t stand up to their former, forceful mentor, the thinking went. They wouldn’t question his decisions. Even if they did, they wouldn’t have sufficient objectivity or experience to challenge his judgment. They wouldn’t bring in the fresh ideas and perspectives that come with new blood.

Nearly two decades later, Krzyzewski’s teams show no sign of winning less or recruiting less effectively. Duke has won three NCAA titles since K’s return to the bench and his shift to a more homogeneous coaching staff.

What’s more, look around the ACC and Krzyzewski’s approach to selecting assistants, his predilection for homegrown advisors – these days Jeff Capel, Jon Scheyer and Nate James -- isn’t as unusual as it once seemed. Roy Williams’ staff at North Carolina, Jim Boeheim’s at Syracuse, and Mike Brey’s at Notre Dame are heavy on former players under the main man. Note that the first three, counting Krzyzewski, are Hall of Famers.

(Associate and Assistant Coaches Only, 2016-17 Season)
School Alums Played For Worked For At
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Boston College 0 0 1
Clemson 0 0 1
Duke 3 3 NA
Florida State 0 0 1
Georgia Tech 1 0 0
Louisville 1 1 0
Miami 0 0 1
North Carolina 1 2 2
NC State 0 0 1
Notre Dame 2 2 NA
Pittsburgh 0 0 1
Syracuse 3 3 NA
Virginia 1 0 1
Virginia Tech 0 1 1
Wake Forest 1 0 2

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