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Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski
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Mike Krzyzewski Interview

Collegiate Basketball Champion

May 22, 1997
Baltimore, Maryland

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  Mike Krzyzewski

When did you first know what you wanted to do for a career?

Mike Krzyzewski: I always wanted to teach. My ambition in high school was to be a high school coach and teacher, and that's still what I do: teach. So I knew about it when I was in high school.

What about teaching drew you?

Mike Krzyzewski: The thing I loved the most -- and still love the most about teaching -- is that you can connect with an individual or a group, and see that individual or group exceed their limits. You feel like you've been a part of them, you become something bigger than yourself. I really love that. I'm passionate about it, and I've seen that happen for me personally, so I want to do it with other people.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What about basketball attracted you?

Mike Krzyzewski: Basketball was not my main sport in grade school, or even the first year of high school. I was actually a good athlete, a real good athlete in my neighborhood. When I went to high school, an all-boys' school, a Catholic school, I tried out for football, and I didn't make it. It was the first time, athletically, that I was knocked down. Then I went into basketball, and all of a sudden, I said, "Well I'm going to make it," and I kind of focused on basketball. As a result, I started to love basketball, and I played it all the time.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

When you found basketball, did you feel like "this is it?"

Mike Krzyzewski: With me and basketball, it became part of me. First of all, what happens is, when you're good at something, you spend a lot of time with it. People identify you with that sport, so it becomes part of your identity. I liked that. "Well, here's Mike, he's a basketball player." That connection was good. It helped me have confidence in other areas, because it wasn't just "Mike," it was "Mike, who is also a good basketball player." So I worked at it, and I really liked it. It became a friend. When I had troubles, I'd go out -- with basketball, you can do it by yourself, too. So you'd go out and shoot, and you'd fantasize. Your imagination could run wild. I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one. It helped me become a much more confident person. It was much more than a game to me, and always has been.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Were your parents supportive of your goal?

Mike Krzyzewski: My parents didn't really understand too much about sport. At that time, we were in a Polish community in the inner city of Chicago, and I was the youngest of a bunch of cousins. Polish families are real big, with cousins and aunts and uncles. My older brother is about twice as big as me, he's about six-foot six, 250 pounds. He didn't play sport. Being in the band, or other things, those were things that you did. They were not frivolous. Playing sport was somewhat frivolous, but I liked it. I rebelled a little bit, and wouldn't go to music lessons and things like that, but I would go and play ball. My parents learned to love it because they saw how much I got out of it.

That's interesting. So they began to see your side.

Mike Krzyzewski Interview Photo
Mike Krzyzewski: They saw that it impacted me in a positive sense. They understood that I became more disciplined. So they allowed my teachers or my coaches to coach me. They were on the side of the teacher, so to speak, in wanting to see me getting better. I had a really bad temper, when I was growing up. Sport helped me channel that temper into more positive acts. So my parents worked with the coaches and the teachers to make sure that I continued to do that.

Was there a particular experience that you remember as a kid, that had a big effect on you?

Mike Krzyzewski: Probably the biggest thing was the impact all these teachers had on me. I went to a Catholic grade school; there were nuns teaching you. When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to become a priest. It was because of the way the nun took to me. She brought out some things that were not seen as "boyish" at that time, like sensitivity to others. I think that was the start of my becoming a very ethical person, hopefully. Although I didn't become a priest, at that point I started learning my value system. That was a turning point in my life.

What was the nun's name, do you remember?

Mike Krzyzewski: Yes, Sister Lucinda. In fact, she's no longer a nun. As I attained some success at Duke, and was on TV and everything, I got a letter from a lady in Michigan who said, "This is who I was, and this is who I am." We've corresponded since then. She had a big influence on me.

In high school, in sport, I had a coach who told me I was much better than I thought I was, and would make me do more in a positive sense. He was the first person who taught me not to be afraid of failure. He'd tell me to shoot 25 times a game, and I'd say, "No, I can't do that, everyone will hate me." "You do it." And even though I didn't do that all the time, he kept pushing me to be better. If success or talent were on floors, maybe I saw myself on the fifth floor. He always saw me on the twentieth floor. As a result, I climbed more floors when I was with him. I've tried to use that in my way of teaching. He even helped me choose West Point to go to school, where I was afraid of that. He felt that that would give me many more floors in my building, and he was right.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

What was his name?

Mike Krzyzewski: His name was Al Ostrowski. He was only in his twenties, and he wasn't even a former basketball player, but he really believed in me, and that had a huge impact. I wasn't alone in my pursuit of whatever excellence I was trying to attain.

Where was that?

Mike Krzyzewski: In Chicago, at Webber High School. It was an all-boys, Catholic school. I just felt that he was always there as a safety net. I became very good. I wasn't a great player in college, but I was a very good high school player. It really shaped a lot of what I do as a basketball coach now.

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This page last revised on Aug 26, 2008 12:19 EDT
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