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Bill Kirby Jr.: Old Blue Devil remembers Krzyzewski in poignant farewell

Robert Brickey has words of gratitude for his former coach.


Any game now can be Mike Krzyzewski’s last.

Krzyzewski has his Duke men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament again and is bidding for a sixth national championship in his 42 years coaching the Blue Devils before retiring.

“In order for Duke to make a run to the Final Four, they will have to return to the confident and aggressive style of play that they displayed early in the season against Kentucky and Gonzaga,” Robert Brickey says. “It is entirely possible if we can get consistent production and leadership from our backcourt. It would be the perfect ending for an amazing career if Coach K wins another title. Then he could ride off into the sunset.”

Duke took the measure of Kentucky, 79-71, in its season-opener and later an 84-81 victory of then-No. 1 ranked Gonzaga.

Today, the Blue Devils are 29-6 heading into their NCAA Tournament second-round 5:15 p.m. matchup with 23-12 Michigan State at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. Duke beat Cal State Fullerton, 78-61, in its regional opener Friday night, while Michigan State ousted Davidson, 74-73.

Krzyzewski is five victories away from another national championship banner to hang in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the coach is just one defeat away from coaching his final game in the season of the long goodbye.

Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil

Brickey, 54, can tell you all about Duke basketball, and all about Krzyzewski. After all, Brickey played four seasons for Krzyzewski from 1986 to 1990, including three Final Four appearances and a runner-up finish in 1990 when the Blue Devils fell, 103-73, to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in Denver.

Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil.

Brickey has known Krzyzewski since the coach first got wind of this E.E. Smith High School standout who led the Golden Bulls to the 1986 finals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A championship against Gastonia Hunter-Huss, a 40-37 loss. Brickey was named “Mr. Basketball” in North Carolina.

He recalls the E.E. Smith High School annual athletic banquet in 1986.

“Coach Walker arranged for Coach K to be the guest speaker,” Brickey says about the late Ike Walker, the boys’ basketball coach. “Bill Carver (the athletic director) asked me how to spell his name so that he could put it on the marquee. I wasn't sure so I had to call the basketball office at Duke to get the correct spelling.”

Walker did more talking at the banquet, Brickey says with a smile, than Krzyzewski. And anyone who ever knew Ike Walker likely will testify that what Brickey remembers of that banquet surely was true.

Brickey would end his playing career at Duke as captain of the 1990 team and go on to a coaching career of his own to include Shaw University from 2005-2008. There would be assistant coaching jobs at Army, Southern Methodist, N.C. Central and Fayetteville State. Today, Brickey is back in the city and working as an investment advisor/life insurance agent/benefits specialist at Olde Fayetteville Insurance downtown.

Brickey is reflecting on these final coaching days of Krzyzewski as the 75-year-old coach brings 47 years of coaching, including five at Army, to a close. One loss, and it is over for the Blue Devils and the final farewell for Krzyzewski.

Brickey was there with other Blue Devils on March 5 for the coach’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium that was spoiled, 94-81, by longtime rival UNC. It was a moment never to forget as Krzyzewski made his way past a long line of former Blue Devils.


As Krzyzewski’s coaching career nears its end, Brickey is leaving his old coach with parting words of gratitude.

“Thank you for 42 years of sustained excellence,” Brickey says. “Thank you for raising the bar of expectation. Thank you for showing the way and allowing me to be a part of your family. You have profoundly impacted my life and the lives of countless others.

“Thank you for imparting knowledge and wisdom to an 18-year-old kid for life's journey. Thank you for helping me embrace the principles of collective responsibility, trust, care, pride and communication.

“The game of basketball is better because of you,” Brickey says. “And so am I.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jrl., Mike Krzyzewski, Duke, Robert Brickey