One of Coach K’s favorite words could be key to Duke’s season

Power went out, a circuit breaker tripped, a server needed to be restarted – no one really knew what was wrong. But the normally consistent accuracy of the NCAA Tournament plummeted Friday night after Duke’s win over Cal State Fullerton, as Mike Krzyzewski and three of his players sat on an elevated dia under hot TV lights and… just sat there. for minutes, whispering to each other over dead microphones.

As they waited for the sound to return, Krzyzewski joked, without amplification, about his “nervous anticipation for the quality of the questions”. Maybe after a defeat, he could have worked hard on the delay. That evening, he seemed unfazed, as did his players.

It was an uncomfortable (and avoidable) situation handled, to use one of Krzyzewski’s favorite words, with “verve,” which also happens to be exactly what Duke will need against Michigan State on Sunday, and beyond if the Blue Devils are advancing.

Krzyzewski may not have his own Roycabulary like his old down-the-road counterpart, but there are a few words and phrases that pop up more than others, which for four decades have become shorthand for various moods. , frustrations and joys. A player warming up or a team running away has a “push”. To experience almost any type of adversity is to be “repelled”. Superlative teams, players and events are “not good – great”. Sometimes things are “unbelievable,” with Chicago’s West Side hissing Z.

But the king of them all, the one that speaks most to what Krzyzewski really feels, is verve. When he says it about his team, it means a certain confidence in it and an approval from it. When he says it, rarely, about an opponent — Syracuse, without Buddy Boeheim, played with “a lot of verve” in Brooklyn — it’s the highest praise. He even got into Duke’s playing notes, on Jeremy Roach’s “Verve at Virginia.”

Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr. (0) reacts after Theo John slammed in two during the second half of Duke’s 78-61 victory over Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC , Friday , March 18, 2022. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

Krzyzewski often says this after games when Duke is particularly fluid on offense, connected on defense, engaged on the boards, talking on the bench, diving for loose balls. Or when a player has been particularly committed to defense, perhaps locking in an opposing star.

“For me, that means a certain level of energy, a certain – not just energy, but arrogance with energy,” Krzyzewski said. “So that’s how I used it. Don’t look for my verbal SAT. It’s also a one-syllable word, so that helps me.

The word, and all it stands for, is especially applicable in this postseason, given Duke’s perpetual search for the mojo he lost to North Carolina and Brooklyn, the quest to get back where he was against Kentucky and Gonzaga. There are countless moving parts in this dynamic, from expectation to fatigue to inattention to the inexorable pressure of these circumstances, obvious to everyone.

“The guys at Duke might feel overwhelmed that this is Coach K’s last whatever they’re doing,” said Michigan State’s Max Christie, a rare Duke recruiting loss. “For us, we’re just going there to win the game.”

But it always comes down to Duke reaching his full potential and playing with energy, connection, aggression and swagger.

There is one word that sums it all up.

How far Duke will go in this final Krzyzewski season may depend on how much verve he can generate, how many of those conditions he can meet.

What’s curious, given how often he uses it, is that his players have apparently never heard of him. Asked about it on Saturday, they exchanged bewildered looks and shrugged.

Mark Williams turned to his right to ask Roach: “Verve?”

“I’ve never heard of that,” said Paolo Banchero.

“He didn’t say that one,” Wendell Moore said.

Krzyzewski, however, insists they heard it, although he acknowledges that it may not be as much part of the vernacular as his.

“They probably heard me say it,” Krzyzewski said. “They only listen to a certain number of things that I say, and maybe they didn’t hear that. Sometimes when I talk to my players, I then ask my staff: “Do they always do that? Do they know who the hell I even mentioned? So I don’t think ‘verve’ is much on Instagram, or anything.”

They may not have heard it. Their season may depend on their ability to achieve this.

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This story was originally published March 19, 2022 5:18 p.m.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered five Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. Originally from Evanston, Illinois, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the 2020 National Headliner Award winner as the nation’s top sportswriter and was twice named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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