City Sports Report

Mike Krzyzewski on Jahlil Okafor : “he’s got a lot more growth ahead of him”

Elon v Duke

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks with the media ahead of Duke’s first round matchup against Robert Morris.

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Obviously we’re happy and ecstatic to be here. We’re going to do our short workout right now. We have one kid, Grayson’s been sick all week, so he hasn’t practiced yet. Hopefully he’ll shoot and hopefully he’ll be ready tomorrow. But other than that, we’re in good shape and ready to go. Any questions that you all might have?

Q. I was listening to your show, Coach, yesterday, and you were talking about — Charles Barkley was also talking about how not everyone has the competitive spirit, I guess, they need in this day and age at certain levels, but it seems your team this year has that. Is that accurate, and if so, when did you notice it?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, we actually — he was talking about amateur basketball and how so many games, sometimes you’re not playing to win, you’re just playing to perform, and that that’s something you might have to teach. I think a coach always has to teach that to try to get them to be competitive at the next level. If they’re coming from high school, it’s a different level of competition and preparation. Our youngsters have been prepared pretty well, not only by their high school programs but three of them played on two U.S. teams, different teams that have won gold medals. So they learned another level of competition. Our guys have been terrific throughout. It’s been one of my best groups. I’ve enjoyed every minute with this team, and they’ve given me a heck of a regular season and our fans and now we’re 0-0 and hopefully we can do more.

Q. You have a couple guys on the team that have gone out early in the tournament but also made a deep run in the tournament, I guess with Quinn and those guys. How much has that experience helped when you’ve got the rest of the guys that are so young?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We haven’t talked about it at all. I don’t like to talk about the past, I didn’t talk about the past when we won national championships and I’m not going to talk about the past when we’ve been eliminated before the national championship. I think each year is a new year, it’s a new team, and they don’t — these kids do not live in the past, especially a past that’s not theirs. Like half our team doesn’t have a past in the NCAA Tournament. So it’s really important to be in the moment that your team is, and our guys are excited to play and we’re ready to go. It’s not about what we’ve done successfully or unsuccessfully in the past. And we’ve done mostly successfully, by the way. It’s about what we’re going to do right now with this group, and that’s what we’re focused on.

Q. How have you seen Jahlil’s game grow this season?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It’s grown continuously. And he’s got a lot more growth ahead of him. The main thing for Jah is that he’s gotten better as the season’s gone along. I think the only thing that has set him back was the injury at the first North Carolina game when he got injured with about three minutes or so to go in the first half. That stopped some of his growth because he’s had to compensate. This week we actually saw a lot of improvement from that injury, but since then he’s pretty much played at less than a hundred percent, although he’s played well, I think if he can be really healthy for tomorrow’s game, I think he can do even better.

Q. Mike, curious with your military background and Marshall’s decision to enter the Army —
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: He’s not in the Army yet.

Q. Yeah, well, the reserves.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: He signed a contract.

Q. How difficult do you think that is to juggle? How well has he done with that, and also are there some intangibles he gained from going through that that helps the team?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I told him his coach handled it well and David Robinson’s handled it well. No, I love the fact — I love the fact that Marshall is following his heart just like a youngster who might be caught up in medicine or law or engineering or whatever. That’s one of the beauties of coaching in college, it’s not just the passion you have to play for your university, but it’s the passion to get something out of your university that will help you. Marshall’s found that niche and I’m proud of him.

Q. Larry Brown said yesterday if Kentucky was in the Eastern Conference of the NBA, they could make the playoffs out of the east. Your thoughts on that? Is it just absurd to compare college teams like Duke and Kentucky to the NBA even as bad as the Eastern Conference is?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don’t watch Kentucky and I don’t watch much of the Eastern Conference of the NBA, so I’m watching Duke, so I’m not qualified to make a comment on that.

Q. This is a little bit off topic as well, but having seen I hate Christian Laettner recently, I was just wondering what the reaction is on your part and in the Duke community to such a revealing portrait?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don’t know what the — again, I talked to Christian before and after, told him that I loved him and always will and always have. To me, obviously there are great things about it and some things I think some people were in there that shouldn’t be in there for as long because they didn’t warrant being in there that long. But overall it showed first of all what a great player he was and it also showed how many great games we were in during that four-year period and we were successful in most of them because of, mainly because of him. So overall my reaction is great, and for him to get that type of exposure, he’s doing some commercials now, he’s hanging with some pretty good people in those commercials so I’m happy for him in that regard.

Q. Being a top seed, is there any added pressure to being a No. 1 seed in a region?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Is there any added. No, I think there’s pressure and excitement for everybody. We’re all, not now because there are games being played, but everybody’s 0-0, so it’s a new season, it’s a great season, and it’s a one-and-done season. So that either you feel pressure or you feel excitement. Hopefully you feel something and then you respond to whatever you’re feeling in a positive manner. The seed doesn’t make a difference, it’s your match-up and your ability to focus on who you’re playing at that moment and hopefully you get a chance to play another moment after that game.

Q. You mentioned Jah was healthier this week in practice. What were some of the things you saw that made you feel better about the way things were going?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah. First of all, he started the last couple practices fluid instead of working his way into it, favoring a little bit the ankle and until he got warmed up, and then his lateral movements were, he didn’t think about them, he just did them. You could just tell, there’s been a marked improvement and hopefully nothing happens here in these 35, 40 minutes and he’ll be ready to go like that tomorrow.

Q. Mike, you said you were going to watch the North Florida/Morris game driving down, and could you just give us your impressions of Morris and problems they present?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, Robert Morris played a great game, but I thought North Florida, that was a really good game. We watched the first half on the bus and we got in Charlotte in time to see the second half and we have watched the game as a staff since then on tape, trying to study them and study more of their games. They came up with a great comeback. I think the youngster Pryor has special abilities. He’s not just a good player, but he rises to the occasion. Obviously Jones can make his own shots. Stewart can break you down. They have two really good young players in Reed and Minnie. I think the kid Minnie is really coming on as a 3-point shooter and offensive rebounder. They’re playing, I would think, as well as they’ve played all year and they’ve handled the pressure of being in a game where they were behind and able to come back and beat a really good team, beat another champion. The thing about that game, you have two teams that are champions, they won their conference and then they’re playing against one another. That’s one of the beauties of the tournament.

Q. Coach, how does it feel to have the opportunity to play in Charlotte again, come back here close to home?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We love Charlotte, this venue and all that. We’ve lost and won in North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, so the location as far as an outcome of the game, it’s not like — we’re a national university, so it’s not like we have this amazing fan base here that’s just going to pack people in and all that. Hopefully we get a good number of people in. We’re just happy to be in the tournament and as healthy as we are. This venue has always done well, whether it be ACC tournament or NCAA tournament. It’s run professionally, it’s done really, really well. So we’re happy to be here.

Q. You have four players with USA experience but in particular to the three freshmen, did that give them a head start into understanding your system and the team game?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I’m not sure of my system, but it certainly gives them an advantage. We have this good pipeline now, we’ve been involved nine years with USA basketball now and we’ve tried to create a total program where these 14, 15, 16 year-olds who are going to become really outstanding players are able to see basketball in a different light, playing against the great competition around the world to get exposed to teams that they’re not just the best player, they might be coming off the bench, and to learn more and it’s helped tremendously. I think it’s helped the game of basketball and as a result we’ve been helped because we have a few of those guys with us. With what Jerry Colangelo has done with USA basketball, I think has been really good for basketball throughout our country.

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