I didn’t get to watch much of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game last night, but I did see about 5 minutes of the post-game press conference, in which Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski appeared with 4 of his players. Journalists took turns asking Coach K and the players questions, and then something very interesting happened. One journalist asked Duke center Brian Zoubek a question about how it felt to finish his collegiate basketball career on top, and characterized Zoubek’s career as “up and down.”
Krzyzewski intervened before Zoubek had a chance to respond, telling the journalist that Zoubek had not had an up and down career; rather, that his career had been marred by injuries. Coach K then made a joke about how the injuries precluded Zoubek from going up and down, saying, “He can’t jump.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Zoubek responded with a wry smile.
“Well, you are never going to play for me again, so…” came Coach K’s response.
“Does that mean I get to say something back?” Zoubek responded.
“No, because I can still get back at you,” and Coach K had the final word.
When Coach K first interrupted the question, it might have been easy for some to surmise that he was simply being pedantic, but it was more than that. He was protecting his player, just as he had done for the previous 4 years of his career at Duke. The playful banter that ensued between them demonstrated both the rapport they shared, as well as the respect with which Zoubek approaches his college coach.
Part of that respect obviously comes from the success Coach K has enjoyed over time, having won his 4th national championship at the same school last night. More telling, though, it comes from the fact that Brian Zoubek, and probably all of Duke’s players, know that their coach, a formidable ally, is squarely in their corner–even in a matter so small as a journalist’s wording of a question.
Zoubek could have handled it himself, but Coach K was having none of that. He did not want his player’s career referred to in any negative light–not on this night, and not on any other. He was protecting his people.