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Duke’s fifth title is the ‘best moment’ of Mike Krzyzewski’s career

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Duke’s fifth title is the ‘best moment’ of Mike Krzyzewski’s career

Mike Krzyzewski came here 24 years ago and slayed unbeaten UNLV in the Final Four. He returned five years ago and watched Butler’s halfcourt heave carom off the rim in a national title game for the ages. But by 2 a.m. Tuesday morning — with a coaching résumé that includes five national titles, two Olympic gold medals and more than 1,000 victories — Krzyzewski stepped onto a small stage in a large hotel ballroom and immediately found proper context for his latest conquest.

“This one,” Krzyzewski said into a microphone, “is the best moment of my coaching career. … We were around special every day.” The crowd, which included select fans, players’ families and former Duke standouts, roared. Fans stood on chairs and snapped pictures for posterity. Krzyzewski has never had a team like this and says none of his teams has been more of a joy to coach than this one. Since reaching his first Final Four in 1986, he has bent and broadened himself philosophically, continuously adapting through rapidly changing eras in college basketball. Now amidst the one-and-done era, he stewarded a team of eight players — four of them freshmen — to a national title.

His daughter, Lindy, said she has seen more joy in her father than in recent seasons because of the way the players quickly “bonded so beautifully.” His wife, Mickie, said this year’s journey has been easier because of how coachable the players were. “When Mike says that we are in their moment and they took us on their ride, that is really true,” she said. “These kids did this. … They soaked him up like a sponge. They may have soaked him up more than anybody.” The freshmen’s fingerprints were all over the 68-63 national title game victory against Wisconsin. The foursome scored 60 points total and every point in the second half.

With three of the freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow — potentially headed to the NBA draft this spring, Duke could be an offshoot of Kentucky’s famed One-and-Done U. One catch: The most important performance Monday came from another freshman, one who isn’t exactly in the one-and-done discussion. Grayson Allen became a household name Monday, pouring in 16 points, just his fifth double-figure scoring game of the season. He had back-to-back three-point plays and a critical jumper with just over five minutes to play, pulling Duke back from a nine-point deficit.