Jeff Gravley

The Duke basketball garden continues to grow

Posted March 13
Updated March 14

No. 14 Duke advances past Clemson 79-72

— Mike Krzyzewski likes to work in the garden. Nothing extravagant, just something to ease the pressures of being the most successful coach in the history of college basketball.

Scratch around in the dirt, plant a seed and watch it grow.

In the beginning of each season, Krzyzewski’s basketball garden consists of dirt, seeds, water and fertilizer. Mix it all together then see what happens.

Crops and basketball teams grow at different rates and some never reach full bloom.

There were times this season when it appeared that the Duke basketball garden wouldn’t produce a bumper crop. Missing or bad ingredients stunted the growth process. Things like injuries to players, the Grayson Allen situations and the back surgery that kept Krzyzewski idle and out of his natural element.

With all of these issues, Duke’s January was really October in terms of basketball growth.

But Krzyzewski and his staff continued to work with their crop to pull out the weeds and nurture it. From the dirt, seeds, water and fertilizer the plants began to grow and strengthen. It showed potential of producing something bountiful in the future.

A split with North Carolina and a gritty win on senior day over Florida State was followed up by four incredible days in Brooklyn. Players talked about their lengthy trip in New York as a catalyst for team growth. Double-digit, second half comeback wins over Louisville and North Carolina set up a chance for an ACC championship, a first for Duke since 2011.

Freshman Jason Tatum and grad student Amile Jefferson echoed the same sentiment. “It would be an honor” to win a championship with this group.

Commitment fulfilled.

No team in ACC history had ever won four games in route to the championship and never has a No. 5 seed cut down the nets.

Standing at mid-court with Krzyzewski, I watched him try to answer questions about the journey of this season. The winningest coach in college basketball history and gold medal USA coach had nothing to compare this championship run to.

He just kept shaking his head from side to side, non-verbally punctuating the words he was trying to say. “I’m a little whacky right now,” he said. Understood, because the feat was inexplicably amazing.

Look at the Duke garden now.

It is standing tall and yielding results. But the gardener and his staff are putting on the work gloves again. There is more labor to be done to try and squeeze even more growth and productivity from this crop.

Plant a team and watch it grow.

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