FORT BENNING, Ga. — Officers and NCOs in various courses across Fort Benning heard Thursday from a college basketball legend.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s captured four national titles and led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, talked about leadership, hoops, and the Infantry and Armor coming together here under a single command during a 90-minute lecture at Marshall Auditorium in McGinnis-Wickam Hall, the new Maneuver Center of Excellence headquarters. An estimated 1,000 Soldiers attended.
Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the MCoE and Fort Benning commanding general, was recruited by and played for “Coach K,” as he’s known around the sport, at Army in the 1970s. Their relationship goes back 35 years.
“Bob was a good basketball player and good scorer. He’s hobbling around now with bad knees, but he did the same thing whenever we started doing defensive drills,” Krzyzewski said, drawing laughter from the audience. “But seriously, we share a love for leadership and building teams.”
Never miss a local story.
“Coach K” also was commissioned from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and spent five years in the Army as a Field Artillery officer. He was head coach of the Black Knights for five seasons.
At Duke, Krzyzewski has been to 11 Final Fours, won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference championships and compiled an NCAA-record 12 30-win seasons. The winningest active coach in men’s Division I basketball with 900 career victories, he’s amassed an NCAA-record 77 tournament victories while averaging more than 25 wins a season. Krzyzewski enters the 2011-12 season three wins shy of passing his mentor, Bob Knight, as the winningest coach in NCAA history.
On Nov. 17, 2000, he earned his 500th win at Duke with a triumph over Villanova. That night, the fabled floor of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium was dedicated as Coach K Court. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame the following year.
“I saw the passion he had for the Army and the military early on,” Brown said. “He’s an absolutely incredible leader, an amazing leader. And besides being a great leader, he’s an amazing person. Success hasn’t changed him.”
The U.S. men’s national team failed to claim the gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. After taking over Team USA four years later for the Beijing Games, Krzyzewski said he knew he had to establish a new culture. So he turned to the Army.
“Coach K” brought in Brown, then a colonel, to relay a story about 1st Lt. Scotty Smiley, who was blinded by shrapnel while saving other Soldiers following a blast in Iraq. The ’08 squad featured NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony. Many openly cried as they listened to the tale.
“On that day, I knew our team had heart,” Krzyzewski said. “If we were going to truly build the best team in the world I really felt it was important for our team to feel our mission.”
Smiley, meanwhile, was in attendance Thursday and received a standing ovation when announced. Now a captain, he’s enrolled in the Maneuver Captains Career Course and slated to command a company on Sand Hill after graduating.
Krzyzewski, 64, who’ll coach Team USA again next summer in London, said he subscribes to five standards in building teams: communication, trust, collective responsibility, care and pride.
“A really good team is one that embraces plural pronouns,” he said.
The men and women who make up the U.S. military serve in “such admirable fashion,” “Coach K” said.
“You’re the national team,” he told the audience. “The Army, like Team USA, has pressure to win all the time. And your rules of engagement are a lot stricter than mine.
“I love what you all are doing to keep America safe. We’ve never had a home game here on U.S. soil, because of you and other members of our armed forces.”
Krzyzewski said America has two “amazing assets” in the Armor and Infantry.
“Two is only better than one if two can act as one,” he said. “You’re going through a historic time. It’s truly incredible bringing these two forces together. As you move forward, don’t discount old values, old things that you did before, to get them to go together. Don’t discount feel and motivation.
“You are trying to figure out how to fight in the future. You’re in a time of innovation and creativity. How exciting is that? Let’s hope you never have to play a game at all, but if we do, I hope you never play a home game.”