Eight years ago, Mike Krzyzewski's 34th season at Duke ended in disappointment with a shocking loss to Mercer in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
His legacy was already set in stone as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, but fans and observers wondered if the end of an era was near.
Turns out Coach K had unfinished business in the NCAA tournament before he called it quits.
Two more Final Fours would come with the Blue Devils, including what Duke faithful hope isn't his last game Saturday, fittingly against rival North Carolina in New Orleans.
"Seeing Coach K play in the Final Four in his last year and playing UNC for the first time in the tournament is unreal," former Duke and Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones said. "It makes sense that his last year would be the year they have to play in probably the most anticipated college game ever."
Following his early March Madness exit in 2014, Krzyzewski added to his staff by hiring Jon Scheyer, who would eventually be his successor. The Blue Devils would win their fifth national title with the help of Jones, the Final Four's most outstanding player as a freshman.
Jones, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, is a proud member of the Duke brotherhood and felt honored to play for the coaching legend who is retiring after this season.
"Playing for Coach K in my one season at Duke was amazing," Jones said. "In that one year, I learned so much. He taught me so much both on and off the court. Lessons on being a leader, lessons on being a better man, a better friend, a better teammate."
Jones wasn't the first Minnesota native to play for Krzyzewski, but he did start a pipeline. Five Minnesotans would play for Duke in the span of eight seasons, including Gary Trent Jr., Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt and Theo John.
The iconic image of Tyus Jones throwing up his arms in celebration at midcourt after beating Wisconsin in Indianapolis was captured after Duke won its last NCAA championship in 2015. Jones' brother, Tre, fell one game short of returning home to play in the Final Four in Minneapolis in 2019.
Tre Jones and Hurt teamed up on a 25-win Duke squad in 2019-20, but the NCAA tourney was canceled during the start of the pandemic. The Blue Devils missed the Big Dance for the first time since 1995 last year. But Hurt, an All-ACC forward and the team's leading scorer in 2020-21, said he was grateful for the experience and personal growth playing for Coach K.
"He taught me a lot," Hurt said Friday. "As a Minnesota kid going all the way to North Carolina, I was more on the shy end. Coming off those two years, he said I [changed] 'night and day' as a person.
"He taught me so much off the court — how to communicate with people. On the court, he taught me so much from high school when I was just taller and more skilled and athletic than everybody else. You can't really see what he saw with 40-plus years of experience. He's coached the best of the best."
Marquette transfer and Champlin Park native Theo John, the most recent Minnesota product to play for Coach K, delayed playing pro overseas to be a part of a farewell tour this year. John has been a key bench piece providing depth behind star freshman Paolo Banchero and 7-footer Mark Williams in the frontcourt.
"I thought I was going to be done with college and playing professionally, but everyone's path is different," John said earlier in the season. "The opportunity to be here is once in a lifetime and to be here for Coach K's last season [and with] the team that we have, we definitely have the opportunity to do something special."
Nothing that happens Saturday would probably top what Krzyzewski has already achieved as the all-time leader in Division I basketball with 1,202 wins, to go with a men's record 13 Final Fours.
It's hard to think of anything Coach K has yet to accomplish in his career. But he's never beaten North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.
That's because college basketball's greatest rivalry game never happened on this stage until now. It definitely seems like Coach K going through the Tar Heels in his last dance was fate.
"I'm extremely happy and excited for him because those are the moments he wants and he thrives in," Tyus Jones said. "Those are the moments where he's built his legacy and his name. I know it's going to go down in history and it will be a lot of fun to see."