When Knicks reserve big man Marshall Plumlee walked into the weight room at Duke as a freshman, he saw coach Mike Krzyzewski bench pressing.
It was Plumlee’s turn to work out next. He attempted one lift before pausing to remove plates.
Sorry to out you Marshall. Let the record show by the end of his freshman year he could beat Coach K in the weight room, but the damage to ego had been done.
Note to Plumlee’s Knicks’ teammates: Go easy on the big man.
Plumlee said he heard on Tuesday that Coach K was going to miss about four weeks after undergoing back surgery on Friday. Teammate Lance Thomas, who also played for Krzyzewski at Duke, was caught off guard and needed a moment to process the news.
“I learned how not to be broken,’’ Thomas said of what he learned from Krzyzewski. “How to fight for what you want. That’s news to me right now so I’m setback.’’
Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who won three Olympic gold medals playing for Krzyzewski, was effusive in his praise of Coach K.
“He’s one of the best to ever do it,’’ said Anthony. “A great leader. A great motivator. A teacher. Someone who teaches you the game of basketball, also life. Sometimes it’s hard to get that from people of his stature. You ask anyone he’s ever coached, I think they would tell you the same thing.’’
The Knicks (16-19) look to snap their losing streak tonight (7:30, MSG Network) at the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re also looking to avenge a 105-104 loss to the Bucks Wednesday night at The Garden.
Coach K had surgery earlier in the day. He’s expected to be out 4-to-6 weeks, which would get him back on the bench in time for a run at a sixth NCAA title.
Thomas won a National Championship with Krzyzewski in 2010. Plumlee got his ring in 2015.
“He really helped me adjust my attitude in terms of, ‘Am I having thoughts about myself or thoughts that are about winning?’’’ Plumlee said. “They can get confused sometimes.’’
“I’m not thinking about my shot on the court. I’m thinking about our shot. I’m not thinking about my defense, I’m thinking about the team defense. I’m consumed with our team scoreboard and the team foul count. I’m not thinking about my own.”
“Every little step, just having that slight adjustment, it really helped me play team basketball and develop into a player that people want to play with.’’
The same can be said of Thomas, who has stepped up in the absence of Kristaps Porzingis (Achilles tendonitis). He’s stepped in for Porzingis and averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 rebounds with five assists and three steals in the three games.
Coach Jeff Hornacek said he hopes Porzingis, who has missed three games, will play tonight. Porzingis said after practice on Thursday that he’s just waiting on the green light from the doctors.
“We all went through tough things, tough practices,’’ Thomas said of his time at Duke. “We learned to live in the uncomfortable. Practices were hard, competitive. That’s how it has to be, especially when you’re playing on the national stage each night.
“Everyone is going to give you their best shot. We got his best shot every day.’’
Duke is 13-2 and ranked 8th in the country. The Blue Devils lost, 77-75, to Kansas and defeated Florida, 85-74, in The World’s Most Famous Arena. Coach K posted his 1,000th win on Jan. 25, 2015 when his Blue Devils beat St. John’s, 77-68, at Madison Square Garden.
“I love this place,’’ Krzyzewski said of The Garden. “It’s been so good to me. It’s unbelievable what my teams and I have been able to do here and to have such a special number as 1,000 to have happened here, it really is unbelievable.’’
Plumlee has played sparingly this season, but he is working two jobs. He completed the ROTC program at Duke and is waiting on his commission as a second lieutenant in the Army.
His experience at Duke helped him succeed in both. Not only did Krzyzewski help Plumlee adjust his attitude on the court, he learned the importance of preparation.
“He told me that a day’s work is never done, that there’s always more you can do to prepare for a game whether that be mentally, physically on the court, or watching film,’’ Plumlee said. “He’s just tireless with his work ethic.’’
Thomas and Plumlee marvel at how Krzyzewski, who will turn 70 in February, continues that relentless work ethic. Both talked about the support they received from their former coach, long after they left Duke.
Thomas has played for the Austin Toros, the Hornets/Pelicans, Foshan Dralions in China, the Thunder, and the Knicks. At every step, Krzyzewski has been there.
“My road to where I’m at was difficult,’’ Thomas said. “I still feel like I have a lot left in the tank. There’s going to be ups-and-downs. There’s going to be adversity. What I learned from him is how to overcome it.
“He was one of the first people to congratulate me on my deal with the Knicks.’’
Plumlee had a similar experience.
“Whether I have been at a mountain peak in my life or a valley, he’s always been there,’’ Plumlee said. “During my days at Duke and now after my Duke career, he’s always been one of the first to call me, always. He does that with all of his guys and it leaves me scratching my head how he has time to do that or even be that aware.
“But he’s really developed a culture at Duke. It really is a brotherhood and he’s the one that sets the standard for that, from how well he stays in touch with us, encourages us, picks us up when we’re down, keeps us level-headed when we’re high. I’m really fortunate to still have him in my life even after I’ve graduated Duke.’’
Even Anthony, a nine-time NBA All-Star and the MVP of the 2003 Final Four where he led Syracuse to the national championship, said he still hears Coach K’s teachings.
Melo’s Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim, is one of Krzyzewski’s assistants on the USA national team.
“There’s been times where his messages, indirectly, whether it’s to me or other guys, that we take heed to, we listen to regardless of kind of where we’re at, how many years of experience we have in the NBA and him being in college,’’ Anthony said. “We all take those messages and apply them to our every day.’’