Our Founder and History

Coach K

Growing up in Chicago as the son of Polish immigrants, young Michael Krzyzewski understood the values of hard work and education that his parents instilled in him. His father, William, was an elevator operator who only attended two years of high school. His mother, Emily, did not complete school beyond eighth grade and scrubbed floors at night at the Chicago Athletic Club to help support her family. When, as a high school senior, Michael received a letter indicating that he had been accepted to West Point, it was his mother who urged him to attend. With Emily’s encouragement, Michael enrolled and began a journey that would change his life and countless others.

Today, most people know Michael as Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men’s Basketball Coach and one of the winningest coaches of all time. But at the Emily K Center, he is simply ‘Coach’ — our founder, Board Chair, and the first-generation college student who started it all.

“I remember sitting with my mom one night and she said, ‘Mike, why you?’ She was referring to the success I have been fortunate enough to achieve as a basketball coach and the recognition that has come with that. I was glad she asked because it gave me the chance to tell her why.

I said, ‘Mom, it’s you. It’s all because of you.’”