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End the Debate, Coach K is the Best Ever

This story was written by Senior Writer Dennis Dodd

He woke up with one of those offers-you-can't-refuse from a Russian billionaire. Mike Krzyzewski went to bed as college basketball's best coach. Of all time.

It's official now, isn't it? The man has redefined a brand - whether it be Elton or Duke itself. He is serving his country well coaching the U.S. Olympic team. His program spat out legions of tough, articulate, smart and rugged All-Americans and pros.

He won a fourth national championship Monday with one of his least-talented teams. Forward Kyle Singler is the only certain NBA prospect. The starting center couldn't start a couple of months ago. This team was never ranked No. 1.

"We maxed out our season," Duke forward Lance Thomas said.

This wasn't exactly Wright State, but it wasn't classic Duke either. But with this team, Krzyzewski tied Adolph Rupp for second all-time in the national championship list. John Wooden is still miles ahead at No. 1 (10).

Something more than an incredible tournament and national championship game, though, was decided here Monday night. Prospective Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's reported offer of $12 million-$15 million a year, whether it eventually comes or not, labeled Krzyzewski another way. The fact that he's worth it. Krzyzewski quickly refuted the report Monday, but it was almost another honor added to his resume. One of the world's richest men, apparently is seeking him to rescue the God-awful Nets.

Duke faithful had to be concerned because its coach spoke fondly on Sunday of the L.A. Lakers offer in 2004 - five years, $40 million.

"I was more than tempted," he said. "I seriously considered it."

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And no one would have blamed him if he did it. Even back then, he had accomplished enough. His skills could have translated to the next level. He has proved that by coaching the Olympic team. But Coach K stayed and endured a drought, by Duke standards. Until this tournament, the program hadn't reached the Final Four since 2004 and hadn't won it all since 2001.
That team featured Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jason Williams. That team would kill this team.

Now Coach K is in place with Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Wooden and Knight, as a coach who defined a university. If he wasn't already.

"You'll be shocked," Krzyzewski told Butler's Brad Stevens before the game, "at how much your school will change as a result of what you and your kids have done." Butler could one day become Duke. It's got that much in place. With a budget that is less than half of what Krzyzewski makes each season it came within an eye blink of the national championship.

Duke basketball, though, long ago became the equivalent of Notre Dame football. You love the Blue Devils or hate them, but at least you watch them, because you have an opinion.

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Monday's report was interesting for the sheer enormity of the money involved, but it will be a minor footnote of this championship season. Two months ago this team wasn't in the conversation for such a thing. The biggest play of the night might have come from that 7-foot-1 senior, who a couple of months ago wasn't even starting.

Brian Zoubek ripped down the rebound of Gordon Hayward's baseline fadeaway jumper that came with seven seconds left. That Zoubek was even in that position would have been laughable halfway through the season.
"He hasn't had an up-and-down career," said Krzyzewski, admonishing a reporter's label of the big center's career. "It's been an injury-marred career. First of all, he can't go up and down."

Ha-ha, laughs all around. Time to move on. The stamp of greatest ever doesn't have to wait for Coach K. That's the prize you won't read about after Duke won perhaps its most unlikely and most exciting national championship under its great coach.

As Hayward sprinted down the court for one final desperate attempt, Singler absorbed a clean, legal pick from Matt Howard that was felt back in Durham.
"Actually, it didn't hurt that much," Singler said.

No, it didn't. Singler almost shot the Blue Devils out of the tournament with a 0-for-10 performance against Baylor in Houston. Here in Indy he was deadly in the two games. The triplets as a whole - Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer - scored 47 of Monday's 61 points.

That's the way it became in the end. These guys played for him, and got better, when it was clear this was not one of Krzyzewski's best teams. But there is ample evidence now to crown Coach K as the best of all time. Better than Knight, better than Rupp, better than - blasphemy be damned - Wooden.

Wooden and Rupp were in a different age. They didn't have to slog through six games to win it all each year. They also didn't have to slog through the ACC each season. Student has now surpassed teacher in the case of Knight.

The numbers are, and will continue to be, there. Monday's victory was Krzyzewski's 868th. He's eight behind the third-place Rupp and 34 behind Knight at No. 1. No one has won more tournament games.

"Tonight is not about that," Coach K said. "That's, like, 10 years from now. Tonight is all about these guys ... 'This could be Duke's fourth national championship and all that.' We shied away from talking about that at all or not tried to think about it and tried to immerse ourselves. For me to think about being with them is much better than thinking about the fourth national championship."

The coach kept talking about how he couldn't believe they had won. Butler was equal to Duke on Monday. When Hayward's half-court desperation heave lipped out, a nation's heart broke. Butler didn't do it. But Coach K allowed himself one little needle.

"As good as the Butler story is and was and will be, [Duke's] story is pretty good too," Krzyzewski said.

Duke has become almost boring with its success. The Blue Devils can be perceived as blue bloods. But this one had a little underdog to it. Kansas and Kentucky were better throughout the season. Heck, they might still be better, but they were also watching on TV on Monday night.

Syracuse had that impregnable 2-3 zone. Duke was easily the worst No. 1 seed. When the Blue Devils arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium, they were facing a crowd equivalent to three times the size of the Dean Dome rooting for Butler.

What more can Krzyzewski prove? Plenty if he went to New Jersey. It's the NBA, where more than one great college coach has flopped. But that's also life-changing jack that Prokhorov is reportedly throwing around. It would keep Coach K's grandchildren he so dearly loves in a fleet of Jaguars when they grown up.

But as Krzyzewski excused himself from reporters on the floor to take a picture with those grandchildren, you knew it would never happen. No billionaire's millions are going to pry him away. Not anytime soon.

"I'm not worried about it," Singler said.

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