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Mike Krzyzewski still has the fire

Mike Krzyzewski began coaching the Duke Blue Devils the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. In 1980, Magic Johnson was also the king of Los Angeles, Terry Bradshaw guided the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory and Bjorn Borg got the best of John McEnroe at Wimbledon.

John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City. "Raging Bull" was a top movie in theaters.

And 34 years later, Coach K will soon introduce the top recruiting class in America, led by big man Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones. The addition will, almost assuredly, lead to another top-three preseason ranking for the program.

"I'm looking forward to the next five years," Krzyzewski told reporters following last season. "What do we do in the next five, not just what do we do next season. What are the decisions? The first thing is, I look at me. I'm going to be here."

Jeff Capel isn't surprised. He played for Krzyzewski in the 1990s and has coached next to him as his assistant for the past three seasons. He's watched the legendary coach, who has won more games than any Division I coach in history (983 victories), navigate the fluid college basketball landscape for decades.

Krzyzewski has managed to stay young and fresh.

He'll hop around with his players in a pregame mosh pit. He'll hide and then jump out of a locker to send a message to his team, too.

Capel has even witnessed Coach K rumbling with players for loose balls -- while dressed in a suit -- because he believed it was necessary to convey his expectations.

"It's like, dude, you're 67," Capel said.

But he added that Coach K has the energy of someone half his age and the understanding that accepting and promoting change when warranted benefits all.

"He does what he feels a team needs," he said.

And he has the stories to prove as much.

The lights went out

During the 1993-94 season, Capel was a freshman on a Duke team that featured one of the most talented rosters in America. Cherokee Parks, Grant Hill and Chris Collins were all members of a squad that would eventually lose to Arkansas in the 1994 national title game.

But somewhere in the middle of the season, the Blue Devils lost their way and got sloppy. And Krzyzewski wanted to humble them.

"He told us that 'You guys are playing like you have $1 million in your pocket,'" Capel recalled.

He kicked the entire team out of practice but brought the players back that night. When they returned, the locker room had been stripped. Their lockers were bare. The photos had been removed from the walls.

The room was empty.

By then, Krzyzewski had gone from head coach of a team in rebuilding mode to a two-time national champion who had sent multiple players to the NBA. But he never wanted his players to lose their edge even as they enjoyed more success. He wanted them to remember how easily they could fall.

Removing items that they'd taken for granted helped Capel & Co. understand that.

But Krzyzewski wasn't done.

Capel's squad played Virginia the next night. Prior to the game, a Duke assistant had begun to diagram plays that the Blue Devils would executive against the Cavaliers when the lights suddenly went out.

"It goes completely dark in the locker room," Capel recalled. "I don't know if there's a storm outside or what. Then, I could see this light flickering. In one hand, Coach K is holding this candle and in the other hand, he's holding a statue of a fist [the team's symbol for solidarity]. He comes to the center of the room and he says, 'I'm just a poor Polish coach looking for a bunch of hungry [guys] and I'm just wondering if I'm in the right locker room.' ... Man, we beat the brakes off Virginia."

The line

When Capel was a senior, Duke had its struggles. The Blue Devils would ultimately exit the 1996-97 NCAA tourney in the second round.

Before a January matchup against rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils had lost to Maryland by four points. But Krzyzewski still had confidence that his team could defeat a Tar Heels team that featured future NBA All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter. Those Tar Heels reached the Final Four, where they lost to Arizona, that season's eventual national champions.

Krzyzewski knew he had to find a way to motivate his team before that prime-time matchup in Durham, North Carolina. He began the week by expressing his confidence in the outcome.

"Coach tells us we're gonna win," Capel recalled. "He kept talking about a line in the sand. He went on and on the next couple days. 'We're gonna win.'"

Capel and his teammates didn't know what "the line in the sand" had to do with anything, nor did they understand his constant references to old Westerns, in which the line in the sand was a symbolic move that preceded a shootout. Once you cross that line, you can't go back.

Moments before that North Carolina matchup, Krzyzewski's efforts finally made sense.

"He comes in and you're waiting on this speech, but he comes in and he goes to the board and he just draws a line and says, 'Let's go,'" Capel recalled. "I think that's his greatest strength. He's not afraid to do anything."

The Blue Devils beat North Carolina 80-73.

Sometimes, Krzyzewski will enter a coaches' meeting with two or three pages of notes from conversations he's had with an NFL coach or corporate executive.

He has nearly 1,000 wins. He's been to the Final Four 11 times. And he has four national championships. But he's still not convinced he knows everything.

"He has this desire," Capel said, "to learn."

And change too.