By Deana Nazworth, special to ACCSports.com
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” – Buddha
Throughout this entire tournament, Duke has had to battle its past. Whether it’s the “I Hate Christian Laettner” 30-for-30 airing and the success of Duke’s former championship teams or the highlights from Duke’s loss to Mercer last year playing in a timeout during their game, everyone is ready and willing to bring up the past.
The struggle to stay in the moment is real.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has fought hard to deflect questions about those times, reminding people that those teams were not this team. During Thursday’s opening press conference, when asked about Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal from the program, Coach K cut the question short. “Let’s talk about the kids who are here.” His need to refocus people – fans, media, possibly even his own team – to the “now” is apparent.
Connection and chemistry are always important to a team’s success, but Coach K has long been known for sparking the recognition of playing for more than one’s own self, most notably in his work with Team USA. This year’s team is all in on that philosophy.
On Thursday, Quinn Cook, called the opportunity to lead this team “a blessing”. Tyus Jones, after the win over Utah on Friday, talked about the need to “play for the guy next to you”. This became evident when Amile Jefferson slammed home a ferocious dunk in the second half. Okafor seemed even more excited that Jefferson, pounding his chest and letting forth a primal yell.
In an era of Vine videos and Sportscenter highlights, it’s the individual wow factor that sells. On a team that could possibly have 50% of its regular roster in the draft in June, it’s hard to believe that egos don’t get in the way. Yet Coach K believes that his guys are “all about what we’re doing”.
After Friday night’s win, Coach K was asked if his team seemed like freshmen at this point in this season. “This has been one of my favorite groups. I mean they’ve been easy to coach. And they really get along. There’s never an attitude. There’s only a good attitude and a willingness to work. Sometimes freshmen don’t learn that until they’re older, but these guys knew from the beginning. I think that’s why they’ve had such a special year. They’re enthusiastic learners which makes you a more enthusiastic coach. They’re great kids to work with.”
But even with a perfect ending to this season, both players and coach know that it’s important to savor what is happening. Quinn Cook feels the urgency. “We’re fighting for our lives right now.” On several occasions since the beginning of the tournament, Coach K has stated simply, “I love my team.” He added today, “They’re the best kids. They’ve been an incredible joy. I don’t want the season to be over. That’s why I’ve tried to make sure these kids are in the moment and that I’m in the moment.”
Today, Justise Winslow, was asked whether this chance to play in his hometown was his moment to show everyone who he truly was. He replied that while it was nice to do well in front of friends and family, it wasn’t just his moment.
“This is Duke’s moment.”
And the moment seems to be now.