DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Mike Krzyzewski is embracing the grind of another year at Duke after an offseason that was exceptionally busy – even by his standards.
The winningest men’s coach in Division I history is coming off a summer in which he had four surgeries and led the U.S. men’s national basketball team to a third Olympic gold medal.
The Hall of Fame coach who turns 70 in February joked his summer was “a cruise” and proclaimed himself healthy and ready to lead a loaded Duke team that looks capable of contending for a sixth national championship and third since 2010.
“I’m good, and everything that happened was curable and needed to be taken care of, and was taken care of,” Krzyzewski said. “And now I’m raring to go.”
Krzyzewski’s offseason and subsequent return to full health figure to be popular topics of discussion Wednesday when Atlantic Coast Conference coaches and players gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league’s annual preseason media day.
His health drew widespread concern last February when he missed a game at Georgia Tech – the first time he didn’t travel with his team since 1995 – and briefly was hospitalized with what he recently said was dehydration, high blood pressure and “a little bit of exhaustion,” though he was back at work the next day .
Krzyzewski – who had both hips replaced in the 1990s – also had his left knee replaced in April, had hernia surgery a month later and underwent two operations on his left ankle in June.
The procedure on his knee – which prompted his daughter, Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, to dub him “the bionic man” – was key, he said.
“It’s one of those times that can happen to anybody where you get a series of physical setbacks,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of the reason I was exhausted was, I had a bad knee, and I really think that whatever happened when we were going to Georgia Tech, a lot of it had to do with me having a bad knee for a couple months and knowing I was already going to get the knee replacement, because I (was) still pushing it.”
Krzyzewski said he’s known both of his knees have been “bone-on-bone” for a while, started feeling pain in the left knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and knew it had to be replaced.
But he kept it a secret for most of the season – at times even hiding a knee brace underneath his long pants so Duke’s players and fans couldn’t tell he was wearing one. And while the public didn’t know there was a problem, Savarino said the family noticed in the summer of 2015 that her dad was walking differently.
“Although he never really said a word about it at all, it was hard to watch him walk out on the court and just be a little bit nervous about, is his knee going to lock up on him?” Savarino said.
Coincidentally, just down the road in Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski’s fiercest rival was dealing with a similar situation.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a similar surgery in May to replace his right knee , which means that between them, they have seven national titles and four artificial joints. Williams, 66, said he feels comfortable enough to stand for longer stretches than he did last season, while the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game.
“It does feel better, and it’s been a long process,” Williams said.
Krzyzewski’s procedures left him feeling similarly spry, especially after completing pre- and post-surgery exercises to keep his quadriceps strong. He looked and felt fine during his final run with the U.S. team, leading them to one final gold medal before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich takes over.
And with his focus now fully on the Blue Devils, he says he feels younger than before and is showing no signs of slowing down. He says now he can get more hands-on during practice than he could last year, when he left much of the on-court work with the players to his assistants.
“I knew I was going to be better. I knew that leg was going to be straight,” he said. “I knew that I’d have more energy and I knew that I needed to get ready for the Olympics. So in a very short period of time, I was well, and my knee is terrific. I’m like the poster boy for knee replacement.”
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill contributed to this report.
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