NCAA Notebook: Duke players comfortable with 'new' K aide

Mar. 30, 2013 @ 12:20 AM

As soon as Mike Krzyzewski told Duke’s players earlier this week that assistant coach Chris Collins would be leaving to become Northwestern’s head coach, he assured them the staff transition would be smooth.

For experienced players like junior guard Tyler Thornton, that came as no surprise.

“Coach likes to keep it in the family and that’s one the advantages about coming here,” Thornton said. “If something does happen with a coaching change or whatever, he will bring someone in that we are comfortable with and who we trust.”

That someone who is replacing Collins isn’t coming in or coming back. He’s just regaining responsibilities.

Nate James, a former Duke player who has been on the Blue Devils’ staff for the past six years, was promoted to assistant coach to replace Collins.

It’s a job with which James is familiar. An assistant strength coach for Duke during the 2007-08 season, he was promote to assistant coach from 2008-11.

When former Duke player and assistant coach Jeff Capel was fired as Oklahoma’s head coach in 2011, James agreed to step down to become a special assistant coach to allow Capel to become a Duke assistant along with Collins and Steve Wojciechowski.

NCAA rules only allow three assistant coaches to have full duties that allow them to recruit on and off campus and work with players on the court.

But even in James’ reduced role, Thornton said he was integral to the team.

“He wasn’t able to work with on-the-court stuff with us,” Thornton said. “He does a good job telling us what he sees. He does a really good job with the younger guys when they come in trying to get their minds right with what college is going to be like.”

During Thornton’s freshman year in 2010-11, before Capel’s arrival, James helped with the difficult transition the backcourt had to endure when point guard Kyrie Irving missed three months with a toe injury.

“Especially after Kyrie got hurt,” Thornton said. “I mean, all the coaches took time out of their schedule to get me ready and prepared for what I was going to have to do.”



The day before they faced off in the Sweet 16, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo spent time Thursday talking about how much respect they have for each other.

Krzyzewski (18) and Izzo (16) have more consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances than any other active coaches. Heading into Friday’s matchup in Indianapolis — where each coach has won a national title — Krzyzewski has coached more NCAA games (105) and wins (81) than any coach in history, while Izzo has been to six Final Fours in 18 seasons.

”For the most part, both of our programs, we don’t beat ourselves. Someone has to beat us,” Krzyzewski said. “I think he coaches every game like it’s his first. I try to do the same thing. So there are no possessions off. They’re going to show up. We’re going to show up. I really love that. This is a big-time game. It’s a big-time game and we’re excited to be a part of that. We want to be in big-time games.”

Izzo echoed many of the same sentiments.

“I think a lot of teams can have good games, bad games,” Izzo said. “(Duke) can have better shooting nights than not, but you've got to go out and earn your win. That's the first thing I think about. It's the first thing I said to my team. You better saddle up, because there will be nothing given. Everything will be earned in this matchup.”



In addition to Izzo and Krzyzewski, Louisville’s Rick Pitino had his team playing in the Midwest Regional on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Like Krzyzewski and Izzo, Pitino owns a national championship and has been to multiple Final Fours.

He enjoys coaching against the best.

“I think one of the things I really love about being in this business a long time,” Pitino said. “I coached against Frank McGuire in his last game at home at South Carolina. I was able to coach against Coach (Dean) Smith at North Carolina, was able to spend a lot of time with Coach (John) Wooden. Coached against Bob Knight many times. So for me, it’s been a tremendous treat.”