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High Five: Duke's Unforgettable 2015 Championship Season

High Five: Duke's Unforgettable 2015 Championship Season

by Triumph Books


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Duke’s win over Wisconsin in the 2015 NCAA championship game was the culmination of a basketball season no Blue Devils fan will ever forget. Led by a talented freshman class featuring All-American center Jahlil Okafor, guard Tyus Jones, and forward Justise Winslow, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad collected seven wins over ranked teams in the regular season to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke then stormed past Robert Morris, San Diego State, Utah, and Gonzaga to reach the Final Four for the 12th time in Krzyzewski’s career. In Indianapolis, Duke dominated Michigan State in the semifinal to reach the title game. Against Wisconsin in the final, Okafor, Jones, and fellow freshman Grayson Allen led a stunning comeback as the Blue Devils overcame a nine-point deficit early in the second half to knock off the Badgers, 68–63.

Packed with expert analysis and stunning action photography, High Five: Duke’s Unforgettable 2015 Championship Season takes fans through Duke’s amazing journey, from their early season wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin to Coach K’s historic 1,000th career win to the final seconds in Indianapolis. This commemorative edition also features in-depth profiles of Krzyzewski, senior leader Quinn Cook, Okafor, Winslow, and Jones.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629370637
Publisher: Triumph Books
Publication date: 04/17/2015
Edition description: None
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Triumph Books is a leader in quality and innovation in sports publishing and also publishes pop culture and current events books. They are based in Chicago.

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High Five

Duke's Unforgettable 2015 Championship Season

By Joe Funk

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2015 Triumph Books LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63319-423-6





Freshmen Lead Second-Half Comeback as Duke, Coach K Capture Fifth Title

By Mike Lopresti

It ended just where the Duke Blue Devils wanted, and just how they wanted: All together on a podium in Indianapolis, watching One Shining Moment. Their One Shining Moment.

They stood there as new national champions, the final step taken with a difficult come-from-behind 68-63 win over Wisconsin. In the middle was Mike Krzyzewski. Next to him was senior Quinn Cook, the heart and soul of Duke, with tears running down his cheeks.

"He's been like a father to me over these last four years," Cook would say later. "To have his arm around me and hugging me while we're watching One Shining Moment was probably the best feeling of my life."

It was, indeed, a moment of deliverance for Duke.

For Cook who endured the March upsets by Lehigh and Mercer, and stayed long enough to lead a champion. "Surreal," he said. "It's been the best four years of my life, a true blessing. And dreams come true."

For four freshman, who had gone to Durham in a wave, intending for this very night to happen. When it was time to finish the job, they would score 60 of Duke's 68 points, and all 37 after halftime. Tyus Jones' 23 would lead the way and that earned him the Most Outstanding Player award. "I just wanted to be part of a special team," he said. "I just trusted Coach K and everyone on the staff with all my heart."

For Grayson Allen, the new folk hero of Durham. The least known of the four freshmen, he entered the title game with a four-point average. Eighteen games during the 2014-15 season, he did not score a point. But Allen put up 16 against Wisconsin, and with Duke down nine in the second half, was a one-man life preserver with eight consecutive points and a steal.

"It doesn't feel real right now, to be honest," he said. "I saw them win in 2010, that national championship against Butler. I've dreamed about being in this moment since then. Never thought it would actually come true."

Said Krzyzewski, "We were dead in the water.... We won it because of that kid. We're not here without Grayson Allen."

And for Krzyzewski, now the most prolific men's national championship coach in history not named John Wooden. This was No. 5, but it was not the night for history. It was the night for the players grouped around him on that podium.

"He wasn't focused on getting his fifth championship. He was focused on getting our first," Cook said.

"The one you're in this moment, with it always the most current, you can feel it the best," Krzyzewski said. "I haven't loved a team any more than I've loved this team.

"We have eight guys and four of them are freshmen. For them to win 35 games and win the national title is incredible. When it's over — and I would have the best appreciation because I've been in this for 40 years — and I'm the coach of that group that did this, how good is that? They've been a joy. They've been an incredible joy. When you're already happy and you get happier, it's pretty damn good."

It was done basically with eight bodies who never ran out of purpose. "We said a couple of months ago, 'eight is enough,'" Krzyzewski said. "Eight is enough."

But why would the players believe eight was enough?

"Because," Jahlil Okafor said, "Coach K said it was."

Add complete trust on the list of Duke weapons that made this happen. Right there with the defense that allowed only 56.3 points and 38-percent shooting in the NCAA Tournament. And the offense that was forever trotting out a different nightly star. Duke won the title, and its most renowned player — Okafor — didn't even make the all-Final Four team. "We don't care who's scoring," Justise Winslow said. "We just care about Duke being up one at the end of the game."

Even all that nearly wasn't enough against Wisconsin. Fresh off ruining Kentucky's perfect season plans, the Badgers played Duke even in a first half of 13 lead changes, and eased ahead 48-39 with 13 minutes left. But Allen drained their momentum with his surge, and whatever Wisconsin had at the end could not stop Duke. Not even the 21 points and 12 rebounds of national player of the year Frank Kaminsky.

Jones' 3-pointer at 4:08 put Duke ahead to stay 59-58, though it was still only three points' difference in the final minute. The Blue Devils, fighting foul trouble to their bigs, hung on by refusing to yield baskets, or ground.

"How could there be a better way to win it than to play those last eight minutes with such grit and defense?" Krzyzewski said. "Our guys just fought and fought and fought. We had one of the smallest teams, I think, probably in the history of this championship on the floor. But not in heart."

The Badgers were left to mourn their 41 percent shooting, especially Sam Dekker and his 6-for-15 line. "I'm putting this one on me," Dekker said.

Wisconsin was also were less than happy with the officiating — Duke took and made 10 more free throws — and coach Bo Ryan was famously miffed at what he thought was a physical Blue Devils effort with too few whistles. Plus, a late out-of-bounds call that gave Duke the ball was incorrect. "I just feel sorry for my guys," he said. "It's just a shame that it had to be played that way."

When it was over, and Krzyzewski had gone 3-for-3 for titles in Indianapolis Final Fours, he made sure to pick up and hug each of his nine grandkids. At 68, he had just become the second oldest national champion coach ever, behind only Jim Calhoun.

But as he said many times, a team like this could make a man feel young again.





Blue Devils Crush Spartans

By Mike Lopresti

One more game.

Duke came to the Final Four, and nothing had changed from the first two impressive weeks of the NCAA Tournament. The defense was still resolute, the offense still efficient, the young guys still playing like veterans. Put all that together and the Blue Devils stormed more than advanced into the national championship game, crunching Michigan State 81-61.

Mike Krzyzewski was impressed, anyway.

"The lights and the stage have not been too big for them," he said. "They felt like they could sing their song and do their dance, and they've done it. They've done it really well."

Yep, Duke was back home again in Indiana.

Krzyzewski arrived with a 4-0 Final Four record in Indianapolis, and picked up where he left off in 2010. That early 14-6 Spartan lead? A mirage. After scoring 14 points the first 3:41, Michigan State managed to score 11 in the last 16:19 of the first half, missing 17 of 20 shots. Duke led 36-25 at halftime and never looked back.

"After the first four minutes," Krzyzewski said on a television interview, "we were a completely different team."

That meant lots of defense and lots of Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, and Quinn Cook. They went for 19, 18, and 17 points, their combined 54 not far off the entire Spartans' production.

Michigan State, a No. 7 seed with 11 defeats, had barged into the Final Four as something of an underdog tale; another contender Tom Izzo pieced together just in time for March. But the Spartans had come to play the wrong team and the wrong coach in the wrong town for that sort of thing to continue. Krzyzewski was 8-1 against Izzo before the game, and 9-1 after it.

The Blue Devils dominated by shooting 52 percent and outscoring Michigan State from the line 27-10. It was the worst tournament drubbing in Michigan State history. Not that the numbers mattered much. What mattered was that Duke had pushed to the very doorknob of a national championship, and seemed to be getting harder to score against by the night. The Spartans were the first tournament opponent to break 60 against the Blue Devils, and not by much.

"Defense is what wins you games, especially in the postseason," Tyus Jones said. "We've known that since the beginning of the tournament."

Added Cook, "Week by week, I felt that guys were making tremendous strides on the defensive end."

Put that together with some crisp work on offense — Winslow, Okafor, and Cook were a combined 18-for-30 shooting, and the entire team had eight turnovers — and Duke seemed fully ready for one final bow.

"They really don't make a lot of mistakes," Michigan State's Branden Dawson said.

Krzyzewski paused to pay homage to his group. "Every night when I'm watching tape or I'm getting prepared, I never worry about attitude. I never worry that my guys aren't going to come," he said. "So you can be a little bit more creative.

"It's not a little exciting. It's incredibly exciting. Now they've got a chance to play for the national championship. Damn, how exciting is that?"

So Krzyzewski would be wearing his championship ring from 2010 for two more days. He had it on all month, "as a reminder" of where the Blue Devils were trying to go.

"We had one goal when the year began. We're going to try to make that happen," Tyus Jones said. "This is why we came here. For it to be right in front of us, 40 minutes away, means everything."

One more game.





Blue Devils Top Spartans in Champions Classic

By Matt Silverman

There is a reason they call it the Champions Classic. Four schools — Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Kansas — committed to play each November on a rotating basis. Three of the four teams would reach the Final Four in March of 2015.

The first Champions Classic was held at Madison Square Garden in 2011 and Duke beat Michigan State by five. The next year the Blue Devils beat Kentucky by seven at the Georgia Dome. Duke lost in the Champions Classic for the first time in 2013, falling to Kansas by 11 at the United Center in Chicago. The series was extended for a new three-year rotation in 2014, starting at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll had three teams from the Champions Classic field in its top five: Kentucky (No. 1), Duke (No. 3), and Kansas (No. 5). Michigan State was the outlier, just barely in the top 20, but like Duke, MSU came into the Classic undefeated. Duke had whipped Presbyterian and Fairfield by an average of almost 60 points in Durham, marking the first time since 1997-98 that the Blue Devils reached triple digits in consecutive games. Michigan State, which won its first game of the year in a much closer contest against Navy, would be the first real taste of big-time college basketball for Duke's newcomers.

Indianapolis was where both teams wanted to finish the season, although the exact location was a half mile southwest: Lucas Oil Stadium, where the 2014-15 Final Four would be held. And Indianapolis was where the real work began toward that goal. Banker's Life Fieldhouse, home to the NBA's Indiana Pacers, would also be the first college road trip for Duke's trio of fantastic freshmen: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones. They looked like seasoned pros.

Facing the defending Big Ten champs, Duke took the floor with the three freshmen and both captains, senior Quinn Cook and junior Amile Jefferson. It marked the first time since 1983 that freshmen started consecutive games for Duke. That mark would soon fall, as did every shot the Blue Devils put up in the opening minutes. Duke hit its first seven shots and went up by 10 about midway through the first half. Duke took a 40-33 lead into intermission on 56 percent shooting against one of the top defensive teams in the country. Winslow, Okafor, and Cook netted 10 points apiece in the first half.

But Tom Izzo never quits, even if the Michigan State coach had been enviously watching the Chicago-born Okafor since eighth grade. It was just a matter of which school he would be playing for, and who he'd be playing with. The freshman trio accounted for 49 points, with Jones and Okafor scoring 17 apiece, while Cook led all scorers with 19 and had six assists. Okafor missed only two shots, making him 25 of 30 to open his Duke career.

The Spartans cut the deficit to 51-48 with 13:54 left in the game, but MSU never got any closer and never led. Duke's speed and athleticism proved too much, resulting in plenty of mistakes by Michigan State, which was outscored on turnovers, 24-4.

Mike Krzyzewski, who assembled this crew after losing seven players from the year before — four to graduation, two to the NBA draft, and one to transfer — was pleased to see how the team reacted to its first test. "I thought we handled it well," Krzyzewski said after the 81-71 win, Duke's largest margin of victory yet in a Champions Classic and the team's fourth straight against Michigan State.

It would not be the last time these two played during the season — and it wouldn't be the last time they met in Indianapolis, either. Albeit at the bigger building just a 10-minute walk down the street, with a lot more riding on the outcome.





Legendary Coach Wins by Understanding How to Change

By Mike Lopresti

In the end, this would be the great irony about Mike Krzyzewski.

He is a 68-year-old man with 1,018 wins, and a gaggle of grandchildren. You could tell by all the kids he had to pick up and hug on the court at Lucas Oil Stadium after the national championship game in Indianapolis. And you know the cliché about senior citizens; how they can be a little stuck in their ways.

But here he was with a fifth championship, largely because he knew how to change. An aging legend still going strong, because he understood how to be new.

"The ability to adapt is key in everything," he said. "I think I've adapted well."

If he had to alter his style, he would. If he had to tweak his strategy, he would. If he needed to bring talented freshmen into the Duke family atmosphere, knowing they would likely be one and gone — call him Mike Calipari — he would. He would be stubborn about not being stubborn.

And it would all work.

"With guys who aren't going to be here as long," he said, "what we've tried to do over the last few years is get to know them even better, before they got to Duke."

Which is why, on the night the Blue Devils won the national championship, they sounded as if they had been together forever on a desert island, not just one winter in Durham. "He has been our rock," Jahlil Okafor said of Krzyzewski. "I believed in everything that they told me," Tyus Jones said.

Krzyzewski did another important thing, as the modern man. He kept his players in the moment. Their moment.

"All year, he has been making it not about his fifth championship, but our first together," Quinn Cook said. "I can remember when we won the 1,000th game for him, he was more worried about us getting our 17th win."

Indeed, it was usually as hard to get Krzyzewski to look backward during the NCAA Tournament as it was to score against his defense.

"I don't like to bring up what's been done in the past, whether we've won or we've lost, because we've already done that," he said. "It's what you're doing right now, and how emotionally and mentally ready you can be for your team."

Curious thing, that a man who understands so well how to keep the past in perspective just keeps adding treasure to it.

It is how Krzyzewski could thrive so long in a merciless profession, that on January 25, he would be the first men's coach to crack the 1,000-win barrier. Even fate played along, allowing it to happen on such a hallowed stage as Madison Square Garden. Krzyzewski said that day he was lucky and honored. And also he was glad it was over, there was a season to get to.

It is how he has now gone to Final Fours in four different decades, and won championships in three of them. During his stay at Duke, Kentucky has seen six coaches, and the White House has seen six presidents.

It is why he has been such a gold medal machine as coach of Team USA, helping restore American basketball to power, as he did at Duke. A coach doesn't mesh NBA players so well without being flexible.

And it is why, as his Blue Devils relentlessly plowed together toward the championship, he seemed to only look spryer.

"I still have the desire to prepare to win, and want to win," he said one day. "But along with that I have a responsibility to have the drive for the players that I have the privilege to coach. I shouldn't coach unless I have the drive, and you can't fake it.

"For me, it's always come easy to have drive. Sometimes I haven't been the smartest guy or whatever, but the passion to win has never been a thing I've run out of yet."

He had it when Duke hired him from Army in the spring of 1980. The Associated Press story that day made a point of spelling his name phonetically, kre-ches-skee. Good idea. But wrong.

He had it when Duke went 38-47 his first three years, and people started to wonder. He had it when the Blue Devils fell short of the title his first four trips to the Final Four.


Excerpted from High Five by Joe Funk. Copyright © 2015 Triumph Books LLC. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


NCAA Championship vs. Wisconsin,
NCAA Semifinal vs. Michigan State,
The Road to the Final Four,
Duke vs. Michigan State,
Mike Krzyzewski,
Duke at Wisconsin,
Jahlil Okafor,
Duke at St. John's,
Justise Winslow,
Duke at Virginia,
Tyus Jones,
Duke vs. Notre Dame,
Quinn Cook,
Duke vs. North Carolina,
Duke at North Carolina,
ACC Tournament Quarterfinals vs. N.C. State,
ACC Tournament Semifinals vs. Notre Dame,
NCAA Tournament Round 2 vs. Robert Morris,
NCAA Tournament Round 3 vs. San Diego State,
Sweet 16 vs. Utah,
Elite Eight vs. Gonzaga,

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