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Duke's Coach K retires after winning more games than any other men's basketball coach

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A bit more about Coach K - the Duke University men's basketball coach is retiring. BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, is not. Mike Krzyzewski has won more games than any other college men's basketball coach, and some tickets for his final home game tonight against North Carolina are selling for as much as $70,000. Duke students have been camping outside the arena for weeks to try to secure one of the free seats that's reserved for them. WUNC's Mitchell Northam reports.

MITCHELL NORTHAM, BYLINE: A rite of passage for Duke students - cold and crazy. Those are some of the words used to describe Krzyzewskiville (ph). It's a collection of tents filled with students outside its basketball arena each winter. Duke senior Natalie Rincon's family calls it something else.

NATALIE RINCON: My parents like to use the word ridiculous (laughter).

NORTHAM: This year, the tickets that the students like Rincon camped out for are so exclusive because it's the last home game ever for coach Mike Krzyzewski.

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: The thing I've learned - one of the joys of coaching for me in 47 years is to be in the moment of the team that I have the honor to coach.

NORTHAM: The Hall of Fame coach has already won five national championships and hopes to add a sixth. But he's keeping the focus on his team.

KRZYZEWSKI: For me than to say, no, hey, look at me; it's my last game - I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. And I'm sure it will be emotional, but it's going to be about my team and - always, always, always, always.

NORTHAM: Raleigh News & Observer reporter Steve Wiseman has followed Krzyzewski's farewell tour all season.

STEVE WISEMAN: Now as we get closer to the end here, you can kind of see where the emotions are starting to come out a little bit more. You kind of see him kind of doing that constant internal battle of staying focused on the game and on the team and not, you know, what's next for him while, you know, people are honoring him for his long career.

NORTHAM: Wiseman has covered Duke basketball for more than a decade. He expects an atmosphere like no other at this game between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels.

WISEMAN: It's going to be, you know, a basketball game. But every play, you know, everything that happens, we're going to be looking at Coach K to see what his reaction is.

NORTHAM: With the chance to see Krzyzewski's final game in person on the line, a record 174 groups, almost one-third of Duke's undergraduate population, took a test for the chance to camp outside for tickets. Last year, Krzyzewskiville and Cameron Indoor Stadium were emptied for the first time in 35 years because of the pandemic, leaving students like Mariusz Derezinski-Choo even more eager for tickets this year.

MARIUSZ DEREZINSKI-CHOO: I think it being Coach K's last year and the fact that we had a whole year off is really what made a lot of groups interested. And that's why it was so, so competitive this year to get a spot. You know, I have the rest of my life to watch it on TV.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

NORTHAM: Even after Krzyzewski retires, Natalie Rincon is sure that the Krzyzewskiville name and tradition, which began in 1986, will stay.

RINCON: And it's such a unique experience that, like - I mean, even just, like, the sign and, like, the area, everything is called K-Ville. So I think that's definitely going to be a part of his legacy that hopefully remains here, you know, forever.

NORTHAM: Should Duke win tonight's game, another long-standing tradition will likely take place - a huge bonfire on campus. For NPR News, I'm Mitchell Northam in Durham, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE VINES SONG, "MARY JANE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mitchell Northam