“What is a winner? Someone who wins everyone contest, but there is not anyone like that. A winner is someone that never lets a failure or a loss be his or her final destination.”
Those were some of the encouraging and inspiring words spoken by Mike Krzyzewski at the Third Annual Don Meyer Evening of Excellence held on Saturday night.
Better known as Coach K, Krzyzewski has won four NCAA Championships as the head basketball coach at Duke. Elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, Coach K boasts the most wins in NCAA Tournament history with 78.
Saturday, though, he was not coaching the Blue Devils to victory in Cameron Indoor. He was instead being introduced by fellow Hall of Famer Don Meyer to speak in Allen Arena.
University president Randy Lowry started off the evening welcoming the sold out crowd to Allen Arena. Lowry also highlighted the several accomplishments that Lipscomb’s athletic program had achieved over the calendar year.
Following a short video, athletic director Philip Hutcheson took the stage and talked about the impact that Don Meyer left on him and the campus.
On the stage next was former Lipscomb basketball coach Don Meyer. Coaching at Lipscomb from 1975-1999, Meyer led Lipscomb to victory 665 times. The Evening of Excellence is not only named after Meyer, but it embodies his character as well. Better known as Coach, he boiled the game of basketball down to the ‘little things.’
“Everyone makes notes, everyone says yes ma’am and no ma’am, and everyone picks up trash,” Meyer said.
Unable to attend last year’s event because of scheduling conflicts, Hutcheson was thrilled to see Coach up on stage talking about the teams that Meyer led.
It was also Coach’s responsibility to introduce the keynote speaker for the evening.
“I’ve had some health problems in the past, but Mike Krzyzewski has always been one to call me and check on me,” Meyer said. “Listen, because I believe that you’re about to hear one of the greatest talks you’ve heard.”
Starting out his coaching career after a five-year stint in the armed forces, Coach K started coaching in 1975 at West Point and moved onto Duke in 1980. Since then, Coach K has won coach-of the-year honors eight times and is known as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.
Krzyzewski talked very little about Duke, though. He talked mostly about his experiences with the USA teams he helped lead to gold medals in 1992 and 2008. Coach K even attributes the greatest learning experience of his life to a time when he was an assistant coach for the 1992 “Dream Team.” With players like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, one can imagine how hard it would be not to get too caught up in things, and that almost happened to Coach K.
“So, I am sitting there drinking a Diet Coke and Jordan starts walking toward me,” Krzyewski said. “I just knew it, he was gonna bust me. I was gonna get it from him. I told myself, ‘I’ll take it.’”
Jordan didn’t let him have it, though. Instead, Jordan wanted some help from the coach that he played against a few years before that.
“Jordan looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I’d like to work on some of my offensive moves for a while; would you work with me?,’” Krzyzewski said. “We worked for about half an hour, and it was the best thing I learned.”
No, Jordan did not give Coach K tips on how to make other players’ jump shots as good as his, but instead he showed him that the ‘totem pole,’ as Krzyzewski put it, could be horizontal.
“First thing he said was ‘coach.’ He respected me,” Krzyzewski said. “Then he said a real good word– he said please. How cool of a word is that?
“When thinking about how to get better, there are things called forced multipliers that I like to use. Calling someone by his or her name, and just saying please and thank you.”
Coach K also talked about setting standards. He talked about telling his 2008 Gold medal team always to play for something bigger than them. For that team, it was their country. The team wanted to embody that ideal so badly that they even asked for the ‘USA’ on the front of their jerseys be the only bold writing shown, making their last names on the backs of their jerseys less noticeable.
Coach K showed the capacity crowd a video that had never aired before on national television. The video itself portrayed everything the coach wanted to say, only he wasn’t the only one saying it. Lebron James spoke on the video about eliminating excuses, playing for one another and having a singular focus.
Coach K was very humbled to be an integral part of Saturday night’s event, and his words showed just that.
“When I was invited to be the third speaker at the Evening of Excellence, I jumped at the opportunity because [Meyer] led the life of excellence,” Krzyzewski said. “I also jumped at it because this university is about excellence and standards. So tonight I tried to show you a roadmap of what we did, which is something that you are doing too.
“It’s time to recommit to those four C’s [classroom, competition, community and Christ-likeness] — the things [Meyer] taught on and off the court– and to being a part of something that is bigger than you and I.”
To cap off the night, Coach K encouraged the crowd of more than 3,000 to go out and change the course of their own lives.
“You can only do that if you see it, hear it and feel it,” Krzyzewski said. “I hope tonight, with some of the things that we talked about, that you had the chance to feel. We are lucky; we are part of something bigger than us. Let’s make sure that the thing bigger than us flourishes.”