From the fall of 1994, when I arrived at Duke as an 18-year-old freshman, until the spring of 2014, when I was named the head men's basketball coach at Marquette University, there were only a few people (maybe) whom I spent more time with than Mike Krzyzewski.
And as someone who spent the better part of two decades with him, as a player and a coach, I can tell you that 1,000 wins -- a milestone that is not only historic but worthy of the highest praise and admiration -- tells only part of the story of what makes him so special.
The general public has seen the incredible players he has coached, the Final Fours, the gold-medal teams and the national titles. On the sideline of Duke games and in international play, they've witnessed excellence in leadership and coaching at its highest form.
What they don't get to see is the profound influence he has had on so many people, from his players to the staff, university community and beyond. All the players and coaches who had the chance to walk side by side and learn from him would have their own stories of what makes Coach K special. I feel so blessed to be able to share my own.
I can remember when Coach K came to my family's house in Severna Park, Maryland, for a home visit in high school. Obviously, it was a huge honor to have this basketball giant in our living room, talking about his vision for me as a player and a person, but the thing that captured me was how down to earth he was. For all he'd accomplished up to that point, he seemed like someone you could have a relationship with, someone you could believe in and someone you could trust. From that meeting on, I felt Coach K was someone who would be perfect in helping me reach my full potential as a college basketball player.
But my college career had its ups and downs. I remember one day in particular, after my sophomore year, when Coach told me in our year-end meeting that I needed to be prepared to be a backup, an evaluation he'd made based upon the level of talent that was entering the program and my own commitment to the game.
It was a meeting, and a message, that hurt -- sometimes the truth does. Instead of making excuses or running away from the truth, Coach K inspired me to have the best summer of my athletic career, which led to very successful junior and senior seasons. It was his belief in our relationship, and his belief in my ability to listen to the truth, that propelled me to greater heights as a player.
People often ask me about "the hug" at the end of the Duke-North Carolina game in 1998. The emotion of that moment was because of a big win, one that allowed us to win an ACC championship, but it was more than that. The win was important to me because of the journey and because of the relationship that had developed between me and Coach over four years. It was profound and special to be able to share that moment with him, after all we'd been through together.
At that time, I would have never guessed that a four-year playing career would evolve into 15 years on the Duke bench. It was April 1999 when I visited Coach K in the hospital shortly after he underwent hip replacement surgery. During this same period, Duke assistant Quin Snyder left Durham to take the head-coaching job at Missouri. I entered that hospital room a concerned former player checking in on and supporting a mentor and left a newly appointed Duke assistant coach ... and a little stunned.
As much as I'd learned from Coach K as a player, nothing compared to my time with him as an assistant coach. It wasn't until I worked with him on a daily basis that I fully appreciated his meticulous preparation, his immense desire to capture players' hearts and minds each and every day, and his steadfast belief that players -- not plays -- win basketball games. It is all about people, getting a group of young men to shed individual agendas to push forward toward a common goal. No one builds a team with one heartbeat better than Coach K.
I once heard someone say, "You can't repay your parents, but you can pay it forward." I feel that way about Coach K. There is nothing I could possibly do that would repay Coach K for all the gifts and blessings he has contributed to my life and my family's life. My desire as the head coach of Marquette is to pay it forward. I want to invest in relationships, pursue excellence on a daily basis and create a culture of high standards that will benefit all who come in contact with Marquette, as it has for all those who have come in contact with the Duke program.
Reaching 1,000 wins is an unbelievable milestone, and I'm proud to say I was a part of some of Coach K's nearly 1,000. At the same time, no number could begin to convey the impact of a man who has made bringing out the best in people -- not winning basketball games -- his focus for 40 years as a head coach. And that's the only way a person could ever reach such a number.