I don’t think you have the benefit of perspective while you’re in school. I see now the success of Duke University and the success of the Duke basketball program, and how they both continue to enhance who I am. You have this wonderful relationship and it doesn’t just end once you graduate.
In general, what Duke, the basketball program and Coach K represent has helped me in a number of different ways. As someone who played here and had a wonderful experience, I want to help continue to make it better. I think you get to a point where you realize that there has been tremendous sacrifice and generosity that allowed you to experience a wonderful four years here as a student-athlete.
As great as the program was when I was in school, it’s better now. It’s a better program. Coach K is better. His resources are better. Across the board, this program has improved. Along with that, so has the school. It’s a great global university.
Both the program and the school are better because of the people who have come through these doors.
My first experience in reaching out and giving back was here at Duke, when I was in school. Coach had a tremendous platform and he used it to give back to the Duke University Hospital System and the Duke community, and he taught us how to get out in the community as student-athletes.
The first time we went to a grade school in Durham for a reading program, I understood the platform we had and how we could use that to make a difference. I was able to learn and internalize at an early age how important that is.
Coach leads by example in that regard. He writes letters. He is very generous with his time and how he interacts with fans. He’s never too big time. He never places himself above those who respect him. His example as a leader and a public figure was striking to me as a young, impressionable teenager. More than 20 years later, I still stick to that as a foundation.
By the time I started my college career, Coach K was synonymous with Duke and Duke was synonymous with Coach K. To me, that’s the mark of excellence.
The environment that Coach creates in his program is one of integrity, of constantly striving for excellence. There’s a reason he’s been so successful. Yes, he’s had great talent, but it’s that sense of togetherness and belonging that differentiates the program from others.
There’s a bond that exists in the basketball program, and there’s a bond that exists at Duke University. I think they mirror each other. I can go all over the world and if I meet another Duke graduate, there’s an instant connection. There’s an instant sense of belonging and the understanding of being part of something bigger than yourself.
I’m part of this basketball brotherhood, and regardless of when you played here, we know we’re all in it together. It’s the same thing with Duke University. I can be in Beijing, China, and if somebody has a Duke hat on, it will spark a conversation. It’s an instant connection that we have because of this place.
It’s important that, as members of this basketball brotherhood, we sustain the connection. I consider myself very lucky that Coach K – my coach – is still here. He’s STILL my coach.
One of the ways that we can truly honor him and honor the legacy that he’s created is to continue to promote what that legacy stands for: excellence, integrity, togetherness, belonging. Whether you played in ’84, ’94, ’04 or 2014, the values and principles are still the same.
To be part of it, to have this bond, isn’t to be taken lightly. Coach K’s players – the guys who have benefited from him, learned from him, have this common bond because of him – will continue to honor what he has built.