By JOEDY McCREARYDURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski is returning this weekend to coach his Duke Blue Devils.
The Hall of Fame coach made the announcement Thursday night on his weekly radio show that he will make his return Saturday against Pittsburgh after back surgery kept him out for four weeks.
His return falls in line with the four-week timeline the school projected when his leave of absence was announced on Jan. 2.
Duke (17-5, 5-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) went 4-3 with associate head coach Jeff Capel running the team in Krzyzewski’s absence. The No. 21 Blue Devils won two road games in 48 hours — at Wake Forest and at No. 20 Notre Dame — after losing three of their first five games without the winningest men’s coach in Division I history.
Krzyzewski stepped away from the team to have a fragment of a herniated disk removed from his lower back, the fifth surgery since the end of last season for the coach who turns 70 on Feb. 13.
The team has been in the hands of Capel, a former Duke guard in the 1990s and a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma who also led the team for one game last year when Krzyzewski missed a trip to Georgia Tech due to high blood pressure and dehydration.
The wins and losses during the absence go on Krzyzewski’s record.
The Blue Devils won their first game of this season without him, beating Boston College at home, before losing a pair of games on the home courts of Top 25 opponents Florida State and Louisville. They rebounded to beat Miami, then lost to rival North Carolina State — a defeat that seemed to bring a promising season to a crossroads.
Duke then beat the Demon Deacons on a 3-pointer by Luke Kennard in the final seconds, then followed that with a victory at Notre Dame that Capel hailed as evidence the team was “growing up” and “becoming tougher.”
Capel had the authority to shake up the rotation, at times benching Kennard and preseason AP All-America guard Grayson Allen in favor of a lineup that made up for a lack of scoring punch with defensive energy.
Krzyzewski’s departure was the latest bump in an up-and-down season for the Blue Devils, who were picked No. 1 in the preseason but have dealt with early season injuries to three immediate-impact freshmen, a bone bruise in the same foot that high-energy forward Amile Jefferson injured last year and an indefinite suspension to Allen for tripping yet another opponent that turned out to be for one game.
Now, everyone is back — players and coach.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.