SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Jalen Brunson and the Knicks have a fan in retired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Coach K said on his SiriusXM radio show this week that he has been impressed by the Knicks’ work ethic under head coach Tom Thibodeau and how the $104 million free-agent signing of Brunson has transformed them into a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.

“A team that’s been really hot are the Knicks,” Krzyzewski said on his “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K” program. “Tom Thibodeau and I worked together with USA Basketball and it seems like he’s got a group of gym rats. I call ’em gym rats. They like to be in the gym.”

“I thought that trade to just get Josh Hart … and maybe one of the great [additions] going into the season was the Brunson [signing]. You know what it’s done for the Knicks, it’s made like [Julius] Randle, RJ Barrett where they don’t have to be point guards. And so when they have the ball, there are less dribbles, the offense has already been moving because of Brunson and it’s worked out well.”

Barrett played one season for Krzyzewski at Duke in 2018-19, but the coach with the most wins in NCAA Division I history said another rising player on the Knicks also has caught his eye this season.

Mike Krzyzewski talked Knicks game, showing his liking of Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Immanuel Quickley.
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“Really a youngster that I love on their team, [Immanuel] Quickley has done a great job for them,” Krzyzewski added about the Knicks’ sixth man. “He can really knock down shots.”

“And so New York’s going nuts because they’re 10 games over .500 and they won their ninth straight game [before losing Tuesday to the Hornets]. So there’s good stuff, it’s a great basketball time [in New York].”

Much of that has to do with Brunson, who last week was named Player of the Month for February in the Eastern Conference.

“The most important thing I think is the impact on winning,” Thibodeau said. “We just love how selfless he is. It’s all about the team. That’s all he cares about. I think it resonates with his teammates and it makes your team function well, so we’re excited about that.”

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Any time a player gets recognized like that it’s positive and it’s usually a byproduct of the winning. The more you win the more people will get recognized.”

The Knicks didn’t hold a morning shootaround or have media availability Thursday morning ahead of their game against the Kings at Golden 1 Center to start a four-game West Coast swing.

Brunson still was listed as questionable after missing the previous two games with a sore left foot.

The Kings expected All-Star point guard De’Aaron Fox to play after he missed Monday’s game against the Pelicans with a sore hamstring.

“I participated in practice just to make sure I was ready to go [against the Knicks],” Fox told reporters on Wednesday. “I feel good. If I were still feeling the hamstring, I probably wouldn’t play.”

The Knicks began the trip – with subsequent games against the Clippers, the Lakers and the Trail Blazers – with a 20-12 record this season on the road, tied with the Bucks and the Celtics for the best mark in the league entering play on Thursday.

“We have a lot of mentally tough guys, guys with a chip on their shoulder,” Quickley said after the home loss to Charlotte. “And then we have just great individual people. It takes character to win on the road, it takes toughness to win on the road. And I think we have that. So whether we’re up or down, we know how to handle that. And I think it shows when we’re on the road.”