CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim once hired Louisville's Rick Pitino as an assistant, coached against North Carolina's Roy Williams in a national championship game and served as an assistant to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski for two gold medal-winning Olympic teams.
The four coaches have crossed paths for decades, racking up a few thousand wins and nine NCAA titles between them on the way to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Now they're all chasing the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
"I'm worried about the guys they've got on the court and how they're doing," Boeheim said. "It's not head-to-head (among coaches) in the sense that everybody else thinks it is. It really isn't. It's not ever about that."
Maybe not to the foursome, but it's impossible to overlook the star power on the sidelines in the tradition-rich ACC with the arrival of Pitino and the Cardinals this season.
The quartet has a combined 3,350 wins, 29 Final Four trips, 84 conference regular-season or tournament titles and 132 seasons of experience, according to STATS. They've also won nearly 76 percent of their 4,411 games.
Krzyzewski, entering his 35th season at Duke, is the winningest coach in men's Division I history with 983 wins. Boeheim, in his 39th year at Syracuse, is second with 948.
Williams, who is entering his 12th season at UNC after 15 years at Kansas, ranks fourth among active coaches with 724 wins and second to Gonzaga's Mark Few among active coaches with a 79.2-percent win mark.
Then there's Pitino, who has 695 career wins in 29 years and was the first coach to win NCAA titles at two schools (Kentucky in 1996, Louisville in 2013) as well as the first coach to take three programs to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville).
"My gosh, a couple of years ago I said this: you better be ready to play regardless of who you're playing or where or you're not going to win," Williams said. "Now you can exaggerate even more — you better be ready to play to the best of your ability regardless of who you play or where you're playing or you're going to get massacred.
"It's a league that with the coaches and teams we have, it can get ugly on some nights if you're not ready to play."
Once Pitino gets his 700th win this season, the ACC will be the first league in NCAA history to have four active coaches with at least 700 career victories. The previous high was three by the Big East during the 2011-12 season with Boeheim, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and West Virginia's Bob Huggins.
Buzz Williams coached in the Big East with Marquette that year. Now entering his first year at Virginia Tech, he knows it's a tough neighborhood.
"If we could get coach (Larry) Brown in the league somehow, maybe get SMU in the league, that would be every active Hall of Fame coach all in one league," Williams said. "We've got 80 percent of the active coaches in the Hall of Fame. I don't think that'll ever happen again in the history of college basketball."
That explains why Krzyzewski was quick with a quip when asked during the league's preseason media day about the initiation process for Pitino as he transitions to a new league.
"What initiation?" Krzyzewski said. "He may be initiating us."
The coaches have run into each other several times in the NCAA tournament and met in three finals, most recently when Boeheim won his title in 2003 in Williams' final game at Kansas before returning to his alma mater. At least one has reached the Final Four in 22 of 29 tournaments dating to Coach K's first of 11 trips in 1986.
And of course, Krzyzewski and Pitino squared off in what many regard as the tournament's greatest game — the 1992 East Region final in which Christian Laettner took a fullcourt inbound pass and beat the buzzer in Duke's 104-103 overtime win against Kentucky.
This year, the coaches could be linked in another milestone moment. Krzyzewski is 17 wins away from 1,000 for his career, and if Duke stays unbeaten to start the year, his first chance at that mark would come at Louisville on Jan. 17.
"I don't think it's the coaches as much as the programs when you look at this," Pitino said. "Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina and Duke — no matter how you would rate it, you would put those four schools in the top 10 of basketball traditions all time ... And I don't think any of those coaches are considering retirement anytime soon, so it's going to be around for a while."
AP freelance writer Bill Kiser contributed to this report.
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