Paolo Banchero downplays pressure of Coach K's last Final Four: 'I feel like the pressure is out the window'
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will coach in the final game of his career at some point this weekend in New Orleans.
The pressure of that reality hasn’t been an issue for the Blue Devils so far in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they’ve found a way to channel that extra intensity in big moments vs. Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas.
But striking that balance has taken time. Duke crumbled in two previous “lasts” for Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils got blown out by North Carolina in Krzyzewski’s last home game on March 5. Then, a week later, they lost to Virginia Tech in his last ACC Tournament Final.
Since then, Duke has found a way to respond to the challenge. Duke forward Paolo Banchero said that “pressure” won’t be a factor in New Orleans on Saturday night.
“Just staying in the moment as a team,” Banchero said. “Being in the present. At the end of the day, we’re at the Final Four. And this is all fun to us. We don’t look at it really as pressure. We get to play in front of more people than anybody has. We get to play on the biggest stage in college sports.
“So we’re looking at it as fun, really. At this point, I feel like the pressure is out the window. I think it’s four teams left. All great teams. The best one’s going to win. We’re just going to go out there and do our best.”
Of course, a loss would also (almost certainly) mean the end of Banchero’s collegiate career. He’s in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick after averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game this season. Mark Williams and AJ Griffin are both widely expected to start their pro careers, too. Wendell Moore Jr. and Trevor Keels may also have that option.
Krzyzewski is coaching in his 13th Final Four, which is an all-time record. He’s also in pursuit of his 6th NCAA Tournament title, which would trail only UCLA legend John Wooden for most all-time.
Duke and North Carolina will tipoff on Saturday night, shortly after the end of Villanova-Kansas.