There a certain numbers and milestones in sports that simply seem unattainable. Fans, athletes, and even Hall of Famers alike scoff at them when brought up in fantastical conversations.
1,000 career wins by a college basketball coach was one of those numbers.
In 1975, when Mike Krzyzewski took his first head coaching job at Army at age 28, John Wooden was preparing for what would be his final season and 10th national championship at UCLA. The all-time leader in NCAA basketball championships was, and in so many ways still is, the legendary college coach to which all other greats are compared.
Coach Wooden won 664 games in his career as a head coach.
With his jet black hair and piercing stare that puts a humbling fear in the best athletes in the world, Coach K is far closer to doubling Wooden’s win total than chasing the father of college basketball excellence.
But this is a different era. Wooden won ten national titles in a 12-year span. His teams were head and shoulders above any conference foe for over a decade, and those Southern California girls are just so dang pretty.
Coach K has pursued the four-digit win mark the past 40 years while taking on the likes of UNC and Dean Smith, Maryland and Lefty Driesell, and N.C. State and Jim Valvano on a weekly basis. The Mount Rushmore of ACC coaches all paced the sidelines just across half court from Coach K. Take the all-time best players each of these coaches developed and match them against the Duke greats. Is it even competitive? Do the Blue Devils make it a game? And Durham, where is that again?
This is a different era. Duke has played at least 30 games each season for well over a decade. Players have more time to gel over the course of the year, the one year they have in college, forcing coaches to develop players in a matter of days instead of years.
This is a different era. The three-point line has allowed Duke, with its storied history of silky-smooth shooters, and every other favorite since 1986 to be that much more vulnerable to a hot-shooting night from any opponent each time it steps on the floor.
Teams reload instead of rebuilding, making it impossible to find easy wins when night in and night out the difference in talent is razor thin. Transfers are becoming the norm, not a rarity. Recruiting is international, not local. Titles, not wins, provide job security, and money and public opinion discourage longevity.
This is a different era, but Mike Krzyzewski transcends all of them.
When he takes the court at basketball’s mecca on Sunday afternoon, Coach K will walk into an arena that has provided some of the most defining moments in sports since 1968. A win over St. John’s would add another chapter to Madison Square Garden’s illustrious story, but Krzyzewski’s impact on the game goes far beyond the 94 by 50 feet and 47 years of even the most hallowed court.
1,000 wins will mark a new era in college basketball. A different era, but I don’t think Coach K will mind.