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Special to theACC.com, by Max Skinner
One name has resonated across all levels of basketball over the past 35 years: Coach K.
Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, reached an astounding milestone last Sunday: Coach K became the first NCAA Division I men’s coach to reach 1000 career wins.
Let’s put this number into perspective for a second. In the NBA, only eight coaches have reached this milestone, and they play 82 games per regular season.
So, how has Coach K done it? His ability to adapt to cultural shifts has led to a long and illustrious career. For example, Coach K's ability to manage one-and-done players is worth noting.
See, Coach K is not widely known to be an X’s and O’s kind of guy. Instead, Krzyzewski empowers his players to trust their own instincts.
Just let the numbers speak for themselves.
Catching Coach K
"I won't outlast him," Syracuse men’s basketball head coach, Jim Boeheim, said two weeks ago on an ACC conference call. "He's going to coach forever. He's going to coach for a long time. I have no expectations of ever catching him."
Outside the other three Hall of Fame coaches in the ACC (Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams), there is a laundry list of names that could very well catch the timeless Krzyzewski one day.
Florida’s Billy Donovan (49), Kansas’ Bill Self (52) and Kentucky’s John Calipari (55) are all on pace to reach 1000 wins by their 40th season of coaching.
"I don't think that I’ll want to coach near that long," Self told The Kansas City Star's Dennis Dodd. In that case, strike Self off the list after his self-imposing disqualification.
Donovan’s Gators (11-9) are facing mediocrity this season. Also, there is always massive speculation that Calipari will leave the college ranks and return to the NBA at some point.
Arizona head coach, Sean Miller (46), has already racked up 268 wins in just over 10 seasons. The former Pittsburgh point guard is on pace to reach 1000 wins in his 40th season.
The sleeper pick is UCLA’s Steve Alford, who has accumulated 503 wins. The 50-year-old Alford has already been a head coach for almost 25 seasons. Alford also had the benefit of playing under the legendary Bob Knight at Indiana. We’ll see if Alford can maintain success at a historic program like UCLA.
The wild card pick is current head coach of the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens. The former Butler head coach won at an alarming rate in his six seasons with the Bulldogs, winning 166 games. Something tells me the two NCAA Runner-ups on his resume won’t sit well with the 38-year-old, and Stevens could return to college basketball eventually.*
Virginia is for Winners
This leaves us with two coaches who have established themselves as winners in their early careers. VCU’s Shaka Smart (37) and Virginia’s Tony Bennett (45), both have the potential to reach Coach K’s milestone win record one day.
Like Coach K, Shaka Smart took over a program at a very young age of 31-years-old. Smart has garnered 64 more wins than Coach K had in his first 5 seasons as a head coach.*
While Shaka Smart is on pace to reach 1,000 wins by his 37th season, there remains a skeptical notion; can he maintain success at VCU over an extended period of time? Or, if he does make a jump to a power conference, can Smart garner the same success at a big-time program?
This is just speculation, but Shaka Smart could very well end up right here in the ACC. After all, Hall of Fame coaches like Coach K, Boeheim, Pitino and Williams may retire sooner rather than later. This would leave some prominent openings in the college basketball realm.
In a conference that features 4 Hall of Fame coaches, Virginia’s Tony Bennett is setting the pace for the ACC in 2015. The #2 ranked Virginia Cavaliers (19-0) are undefeated and off to the best start in school history since the Ralph Sampson days in the early ‘80s.
Bennett has gotten comparisons to Coach K before, and if he continues to win, Bennett will continue to garner these comparisons.
“That’s about the greatest compliment you could ever be given,” Bennett said about two years ago. “[Coach K is] the best or one of the best to ever coach. I’ve got so far to go.”
“Maybe it’s because we both have dark hair or something like that,” Bennett jokingly told The Daily Progress.
“Although, I have more gray [hair] than him.”
All jokes aside, Bennett is on pace to reach 1000 wins shortly after his 40th season. In fact, he has 59 more wins than Coach K had in his first nine seasons as a head coach.* Bennett has averaged 21.2 wins per year in his first five seasons at UVa. Coach K only averaged 17 wins per season in his first five years at Duke. In his last five seasons, Krzyzewski has won exactly 30 games per season, right on the nose.
The biggest similarity between Coach K and Tony Bennett is their extensive background of coaching influences. As we all know, Mike Krzyzewski was coached by the hard-nosed legend Bobby Knight while he played at Army.
Bennett was coached and coached alongside his own father, the defensive-minded Dick Bennett. Dick Bennett studied Bob Knight’s “motion offense” extensively, and used those principles at both UW-Green Bay and Wisconsin. Consequently, Tony Bennett followed his father’s lead and uses those motion principles at Virginia.
Using his father’s principles, Bennett has made quite an impact in a conference that features legendary programs like UNC and Duke.
“With Carolina and Duke, in a way it was daunting, but you gotta test yourself against the best,” Bennett told Digger Phelps in a one-on-one interview.
Bennett is certainly proving himself against the best so far in his young career. As the ACC continues to improve, it will be interesting to see if he and Virginia can stay consistent. As we noted earlier, consistency plus longevity goes a long way in the college basketball spectrum. Just ask Coach K.