Season Preview: CHD sits down with Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel

It has been more than five months since Louisville was able to fend off a strong Michigan team and win the school’s third NCAA title. After a long summer away from the court we are only a few weeks away from Midnight Madness in October and the start of the regular season in November. To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel about coaching Blake Griffin and playing/working for Mike Krzyzewski.  


In the 1994 NCAA tourney title game as a player at Duke you scored 14 points in a four-point loss to Arkansas.  How close did you come to winning the title? We came very close to winning the title in 1994. The game with Arkansas was back and forth throughout and we were tied with about a minute left. We had a great defensive possession, but with the shot clock expiring Scotty Thurman hit a huge three over the outstretched hand of Antonio Lang. We were right there, I think about that game and that play just about every day.

On February 2, 1995 you made a famous 40-foot runner at the buzzer at the end of the first OT in a two-point loss to North Carolina.  Did you think the shot was going in, and where does that rank among the highlights of your career? I did think my shot was going in when it left my hand. I got to the spot I wanted to get to on the floor and it certainly felt good when I released it. I am not sure where it ranks, but it would be considerably higher if we would have actually won the game, that’s for sure.

In 2009 as head coach at Oklahoma you started the season 25–1 until Wooden Award winner Blake Griffin was sidelined with a concussion during the Texas game that February.  Do you think you would have win the title if he had remained healthy all year? I feel like the team I coached at Oklahoma was as good as any in the country. As we were getting ready for that game at Texas we were 25-1 and ranked number two in the country. The team that was ranked number one had lost earlier that afternoon, so if we could beat the Longhorns then we would have been ranked number one in the country for the first time in school history. We had beaten Texas pretty convincingly at our place earlier in the season. At that point I felt like we were playing as well as anyone: we were confident, talented, hungry, and in an incredible rhythm. Blake going out with a concussion in the first half certainly set us back. My team played with tremendous courage and heart the rest of the game and almost pulled it out in the end. Where his injury hurt us the most is that it broke our rhythm. We made a run at it in the NCAA tourney before losing to one-seed North Carolina in the Elite 8. It was a heck of a run, but I do wonder at times “What if Blake would not have gotten hurt?”!

In 2010 you went 5-0 and won a gold medal as head coach for team USA at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship.  What did it mean to you to win the gold, and which future Duke PG (Kyrie Irving or Austin Rivers) impressed you the most? Winning the gold medal as the head coach of USA basketball at the U-18 FIBA Americas Championships was an INCREDIBLE experience! To see the joy on those kids’ faces when we won the championship was priceless. To be on that medal stand as we received our medals, and to see the pride that both myself and our guys felt has been the highlight of my career thus far. Kyrie and Austin were both awesome. Kyrie was already signed with Duke so we had a chance to have a little different relationship than I did with the other guys. He was undoubtedly the best player. I knew coming in that he was really good, but it was during the trials, practices, and the competition itself that I realized how much better he was than I first thought. Austin was also tremendous, especially when the competition started. He got off to a bit of a slow start in the trials. He had just finished his junior year in high school so it took him some time to get adjusted to the speed and physicality of the practices, but he worked his butt off and remained hungry to improve. By the time we got to the competition he just exploded. His game in the semifinals against Canada is still as good a shooting performance as I have ever seen in person (setting a USA record in a FIBA U-18 event with 35 points including nine straight three-point shots)!

In 2011 you became an assistant under Coach K at your alma mater.  Why did you take the job, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from your boss? I took the job for one main reason: Coach K asked me to come back. I had just gotten fired at Oklahoma and had originally planned to take at least some time off from coaching. My plan was to try and get into broadcasting and see where that led, but Coach called and asked me to come back. I would not have been an assistant for anyone else at that particular time, but Coach K is different. He has been my coach for 20 years now, and in the last 15 years our relationship has blossomed into an incredible and special friendship. The thing I have learned the most from Coach is to fight: no matter what life throws at you, you must always fight…and always have good people on your bus with you!!!

You lost your top-three scorers from last season (Seth Curry/Mason Plumlee/Ryan Kelly).  How will you try to replace such a huge part of your offense? Not only did we lose the scoring, but we also lost a lot of maturity, leadership, toughness. What Mason, Seth, and Ryan did in representing Duke University and Duke basketball was special in every way. We feel like we have some very talented young men in our program that will be able to pick up the scoring void, but we need everyone to raise their level of maturity and become men. We need to be tough together, hungry, and excited about the opportunity this group has.

One of your most heralded freshmen is Jabari Parker, who won four state titles at Simeon Career Academy (Chicago) and was named 2013 national POY: what sets him apart from the blue-chip players that the Blue Devils sign every year? I have not been here long enough to comment on the freshmen that have been here in the past, but Jabari is a very unique player and talent, as well as a tremendous kid. We have an outstanding freshman class and we look forward to helping all three of them grow to become the men and players we feel they can be.

Your non-conference schedule includes games against Kansas, Michigan, and UCLA.  Which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? All of our games are big tests for us: none are greater than any other. One of the first things you learn as a Duke basketball player is that every game is the most important because Duke is playing.

Three of your new conference opponents this year will be Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse.  How competitive do you expect the brand-new ACC to be this winter? I have always felt that the ACC was the premiere college basketball conference in the country. With the addition this year of Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame, the conference is unquestionably the best in the country. As a competitor you always want to measure yourself against the best, so we all will have a chance to do that as we move forward.

Your father Jeff II coached at Old Dominion and your younger brother Jason is head coach at Appalachian State.  Who is the best coach in the family?! I guess I would have to say my dad. My brother and I learned basketball from our father. For both of us he has always been our hero, so it has to be my dad. However, my brother is really good and is getting better each year. He is really excited about his group at Appalachian State this year. However, in saying all that, I still have the highest winning percentage and the most wins, so…!