Now and then, a group of young people and their tutor reach a point of mutual trust and respect where each is willing to let the other take charge. So it went the past Monday night as Duke University coached by Mike Krzyzewski defeated Arizona to win the national college basketball championship.
Favored Duke was struggling, and Arizona was on the verge of taking charge. The Blue Devil coach during a time-out told his young men to stop thinking and performing in such a structured manner "trying to run too many set plays" and follow their instincts, "to just go out and play basketball to the best of their ability."
Some have jokingly remarked that Krzyzewski may have set back coaching a decade by showing such trust in his charges. He doesn't see it that way. He pointed out he has been tutoring the young men for months, in some cases, years; that there are times when a coach simply has to realize their capabilities and let them exercise them. The same holds true for good teachers in every field. There inevitably comes "show time" for students.
Krzyzewski also coached the 1991 and 1992 Duke teams that won national crowns, the '91 team defeating Kansas for its trophy. The Duke coach says he can do only so much, then it's up to the players. "It was better to let them play instinctively," he says, "They have such a feel for the game that to put them in too much structure would stifle them."
It takes someone with great self-confidence and a strong control of his ego to do that. The players admitted they loved the vote of confidence and responded beautifully to win the game. They trusted the coach, he trusted them.
Nobody personifies the Duke sense of excellence more than Shane Battier, the senior superstar who once considered coming to Kansas and who always seems to do the right thing socially, academically and athletically. The NCAA title was the lone square he had to fill on his achievement resume, and after the game, the modest youngster said: "All that's left for me is to ride off into the sunset on a white horse." It couldn't be put any better.
Later, the trusting coach Krzyzewski gathered his admiring players around him, noted how they, not he, had won the game, and commented: "Thanks for letting me ride you."
Nice guys can, indeed, finish first, and Krzyzewski and Battier offer indelible proof of that. And teachers everywhere have to be uplifted by such an example.