After the news about Coach K broke, people are inevitably going to think: 1995.
Well there are some similarities.
Duke was at about the same point in 1995 - right after the first ACC game, and Duke 9-3 (as opposed to 12-2 currently.
But that’s about it really.
Duke had just seen the end of the Grant Hill era, and a guy like Hill can cover up many, many flaws.
He could play four positions and, in one of the greatest plays we have ever seen in Cameron, broke up a one-on-four break against UNC.
Without him, Duke persuaded Erik Meek - who was never the same after being hit by a car before coming to Duke - to cancel his redshirt year to give Duke some extra depth.
Duke returned Meek, Cherokee Parks, Chris Collins, Jeff Capel, Greg Newton, Kenny Blakeney, Carmen Wallace and Tony Moore. Ricky Price was a freshman, as were Trajan Langdon and Steve Wojciechowski.
It was a roster Krzyzewski could have worked with, but he’s always been a creative coach who is willing to mix and match players to see what works.
As much as we admired Pete Gaudet’s work with big men, like his UNC counterpart, the late Bill Guthridge, he wasn’t very comfortable as head coach.
The team began to play without confidence and the season fell apart.
Things are pretty different now.
First there is some time to plan. Coach K will coach against Georgia Tech before handing off to Jeff Capel and the staff.
Capel is a far cry from Gaudet, and we mean no disrespect to Gaudet, who did his best. He was a superb assistant; he just didn’t do well as head coach.
Capel, by contrast, has a record of success at VCU and Oklahoma. He’s been a key factor in Duke’s recent successes, including the 2015 title.
He filled in last season when Coach K couldn’t make the Georgia Tech trip and did very well.
We think he’ll do pretty well, and, importantly, he has a much better hand than did Gaudet.
He has seniors Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. He has Luke Kennard, who is having a brilliant year. He has a situation with Grayson Allen, but no one doubts Allen’s talent.
Jayson Tatum has already emerged as a superb talent despite playing just six games. Harry Giles and Marques Bolden are coming on and will be bigger factors every time out. And Frank Jackson, as a freshman, is as good as any freshman Capel played with in 1995.
Aside from the lessons Krzyzewski learned post 1995, some enforced by his wife Mickie, who threatened to leave him if he didn’t go to the doctor in late December or January of that year, we have absolutely no doubt that Capel, who suffered through that miserable season, learned some as well. He’ll remember the collapses that year. He’ll remember Virginia’s 25 point comeback in Cameron. And he’ll know - intimately - what we talked about in today’s ACC Roundup about Syracuse and ACC teams kicking you when you’re down.
One of the broadly misunderstood factors in Duke’s success in the Krzyzewski era is a willingness - actually an eagerness - to learn from failure and to apply lessons accordingly.
Duke gets what passes in the ACC for an easy stretch with Georgia Tech coming to town following a big upset of UNC and Boston College with a suddenly astounding offense after that.
Then it’s off to FSU and Louisville before returning to Durham to play Miami and State.
We have a lot of confidence in Duke’s ability to apply lessons and in Capel’s ability to coach this team. They’ll continue to work to improve, and, like most of you, we’ll be following every second.