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A Grip on Sports: Another of college basketball treasures will be gone by this time next year

Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski will coach his final season with the Blue Devils in 2021-22, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday, June 2, 2021. The person said former Duke player and associate head coach Jon Scheyer would then take over as Krzyzewski's successor for the 2022-23 season.  (Associated Press)
Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski will coach his final season with the Blue Devils in 2021-22, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday, June 2, 2021. The person said former Duke player and associate head coach Jon Scheyer would then take over as Krzyzewski's successor for the 2022-23 season. (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • What was it the clergyman said in “The Princess Bride?” “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us together today. Mawage, that blessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam. And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva. So tweasure your wuv.” It’s all we could think of Wednesday when we heard the Mike Krzyzewski news.

•••••••

• Krzyzewski’s time at Duke weeemed – sorry, it just popped in my head – like a marriage. A perfect marriage. And like lots of marriages, it had to survive a few rocky years before the smooth sailing began. Lately, though, rocky shoals have appeared – Krzyzewski has spoken out against many of the changes in college athletics, all the while adapting his program to take the best advantage of them – and the 74-year-old coach is going to step down.

But not until he takes a victory lap.

(As an aside, want to know another reason why John Wooden is the greatest role model ever among coaches? When Wooden decided he was through, he just announced it one night after an NCAA semifinal game. He was 64 years old and told the world after the championship game he was riding off into the L.A. sunset. No world tour, no rocking chairs, nothing. One more win and he was gone.)

That victory lap will include a Nov. 26 game against Gonzaga in Las Vegas. Now that will be a ticket to treasure, won’t it? Especially considering GU’s Mark Few is among the handful of college coaches ready to assume Krzyzewski’s mantle as vocal leader of the sport.

That’s what Krzyzewski is. The leader of amateur basketball. Heck, considering he’s won a trio of Olympic gold medals with NBA players, he would rightfully be considered the leader of all basketball, coaching division. Like all leaders, he’s not infallible. He’s done some oof-the-wall stuff recently – the way he treated a student reporter last season among the examples – and said some things others found controversial – including one about playing in a pandemic – but that’s OK. Reaction-ism is often a symptom of aging and Krzyzewski has a right to be a little reactionary. And to have his voice heard.

That will start to fade after the next college basketball season. After the accolades and celebrations. After the crowds leave, Krzyzewski will no longer be Duke’s Coach K, but just Mike Krzyzewski. Still a leader, surely, but one without the platform to be heard consistently. Even more than coaching, that might be the thing Krzyzewski misses the most.

• College baseball has been part of my life since before I knew the difference between a slider and cutter. Long before. Heck, one of my sisters dated a UCLA catcher while I was in elementary school and the other married a different one a decade later. So, ya, college baseball is important to me.

No more so, though, than this time of year.

One of the reasons I walked on at UC Irvine – a small, small reason to be honest – was the Anteaters’ postseason success. They were coming off back-to-back Division II national titles, with Gary Adams’ 48-8 1974 team quite possibly the nation’s best team at all levels, having split two games with Division I champion USC in March.

Even then, the college baseball playoffs seemed like an attainable goal. Alas, in the four years at Irvine, we never made a regional. Maybe it was because the bench talent was a little thin.

But that didn’t dent my love of college baseball’s postseason. I made it to Omaha in 1982, covering Cal State Fullerton for the Orange County Register. (I even caught batting practice for the Titans, as a way to get an inside look for a story.) Fullerton tied a College World Series record that season: The Titans lost both games and were shut out in both, losing by a combined 13-0. (Wonder if it was because of the idiot catching BP and talking with the players?)

When UC Irvine made the Division I World Series for the first time in 2007, I hopped on a plane and flew to Omaha. My college roommate and I rooted the Anteaters on as they finished 2-2, losing to eventual champion Oregon State in the semifinals.

Which brings us to this weekend. Gonzaga is flying the Inland Northwest banner in the regionals, a No. 2 seed in the Eugene four-team tournament. The Zags have every opportunity to move along to the Super Regionals, as long as their pitching holds up (as John Blanchette explores in this morning’s column). It would be quite an accomplishment. Or just another step on the Zags’ road to success under longtime coach Mark Machtolf.

No matter what happens this weekend, the Gonzaga players will experience the best college baseball has to offer. Postseason play is different – or at least I have been told. Each pitch has more significance. Each swing does as well. When it ends, no matter the outcome, they will have been through the proverbial wringer. And emerged on the other side with memories pressed into them in such depth they will never forget. And that’s the goal, right?

•••

WSU: The betting line for the Cougars’ over/under win total for the fall has been set at six. Seems high to me, considering the uncertainty with the roster and the tough Pac-12 schedule. Jon Wilner feels the same way. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college sports, college football’s Hall of Fame nominees were announced yesterday. The conference has quite a few on the list. … Oregon’s linebacking corps includes two exceptional players. … Utah has picked up a transfer from USC. … Arizona will have full stands this fall. … In basketball news, Oregon has picked up another transfer. … Arizona’s Adia Barnes will be making more than a million dollars next season.

Gonzaga: As we mentioned above, John has a column on the baseball team’s regional hopes. … The Zags earned quite a few West Coast Conference honors, including pitcher of the year (North Central High graduate Alek Jacob), coach of the year (Machtolf) and defensive player of the year (Brett Harris.).

EWU: Cooper Kupp suffered a mysterious injury last season. He explained it recently.

Preps: Dave Nichols spent some time today explaining how hard it is to compile high school reports in these COVID-19 times. … He also has a roundup of Wednesday’s action.

Indians: Spokane exploded early and raced to a 9-1 home win over Tri-City. Dave has the game story from Avista Stadium.

Chiefs: The top pick in the Dec. 9 bantam draft is owned by the Chiefs after the ping-pong balls fell their way yesterday. Kevin Dudley has all the information in this story.

Mariners: Sean Manaea was nearly untouchable and the A’s took the series’ rubber game 6-0. … Justin Dunn is the latest starting pitcher hit by injury. He’s landed on the injured list. … June may just go OK for the M’s.

Seahawks: Maybe trading for Julio Jones would be a good thing.

Kraken: Seattle will pick second in their first NHL draft.

Sounders: The Lumen Field lower bowl will now be available without restriction to the vaccinated.

Golf: Want a premier course experience without having to travel to a premier course? There is a new place in Spokane where you can make that happen. Ryan Collingwood has all the details in this story.

•••       

• The reason marriage was foremost in my mind when Krzyzewski’s pending retirement came up? He was hired at Duke seven months after Kim and I were married. And it seems, to me at least, Kim and I have been married forever. It’s hard to imagine life not married or to remember my life before it happened. My guess is Krzyzewski feels a similar way about his relationship with Duke. Until later …

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