Hundreds of Army officers and senior enlisted soldiers were given a pep talk Thursday from a coaching legend, as Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski paid a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Known in some circles simply as “Coach K,” Krzyzewski coached Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general of I Corps and Lewis-McChord, when Brown played basketball at West Point from 1977-81. The two men have remained close friends.
Krzyzewski, who has won more games than any other men’s Division I college basketball coach, discussed his experience guiding the U.S. men’s basketball team to gold during last year’s London Olympics. He said it offers lessons about team-building that apply as much to the battlefield as the hardwood.
“There’s nothing more important that we do than build a team,” Brown told the audience in introducing his mentor.
Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate who served five years as a field artillery officer, said the visit was inspiring.
“It’s an honor to speak to anybody, but this is a supreme honor because you get not just to share some things with them, but you get to thank them in person for doing extraordinary things,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary commitment they make, them and their families.”
Krzyzewski flew into Lewis-McChord on a private jet and ate breakfast and lunch with Brown. Coach K arrived aboard an armored Stryker vehicle, and he posed for pictures and signed autographs after his speech and a question-and-answer session. The coach paid his own way, a base spokesman said.
Whether leading millionaire basketball players or soldiers, it’s imperative to instill in a team a sense of ownership in what must be accomplished, Krzyzewski told the audience.
He related how he took his Olympics players, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, to Arlington National Cemetery and Ellis Island to reinforce to them the honor of representing their nation.
Krzyzewski encouraged Lewis-McChord’s military leaders to listen to junior soldiers for different perspectives.
“Everyone on your team is important,” he said. “Importance knows no rank.”
The junior soldiers and college basketball players of today communicate very differently from their predecessors, Krzyzewski said, and it’s important to adapt.
“As a leader, you have to keep changing,” he said. “Not your values but how you get your message across.”
After Brown introduced him, Krzyzewski joked to the audience that he was surprised by Brown’s choice of career, given that on the basketball court Brown was quick to try to score but slow to stop the other team.
“Defense was not a part of his nature,” the coach said.
Krzyzewski later said Brown was an outstanding player and said he worried that he might shun West Point for a Big 10 college.
“When he visited, I saw that he loved West Point, and I said ‘I can’t believe we have a chance to get this kid.’”
A serious knee injury ended Brown’s prospects of a professional career.
The two men have remained close through the years. Krzyzewski also spoke to leaders when Brown held his prior command at Fort Benning, Ga. In turn, Brown arranged for two wounded soldiers to speak to Team USA before the world championships in 2006.
Staff Sgt. Michael Hank, 31, of Asheville, N.C., grew up watching Duke basketball.
Hank, who is Brown’s former driver, got Krzyzewski to sign his basketball during the coach’s visit to Fort Benning. Now based at Lewis-McChord, he brought an official Duke game ball to Thursday’s event to add to his collection.
“He’s a great speaker,” Hank said of the coach. “He’s a great leader.”