Friday, February 20, 2009

Coach K, fans reach same conclusion

NEW YORK - It’s rare that a team’s fans and its coach reach the same conclusion about a change in strategy.

Coaches attend practice every day.

Fans do not.

A coach might know that the backup quarterback can’t tell the difference between a cover-two and a covered wagon. Many fans don’t understand the cover-two either, and coaches don’t always appreciate getting ideas from those fans.

One reporter’s suggestion that North Carolina’s Roy Williams should have used a full-court press more against N.C. State was met with a typical coach’s frustration (the Tar Heels “stink” in full-court pressure) plus some extra colorful language that had him apologizing afterward.

That’s what makes Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s adjustment Thursday night so unusual. If Krzyzewski has been getting the same type of communication that enters my e-mail inbox, the message from fans was clear from fans frustrated with four losses in a six-game period.

They wanted to see more of freshmen Elliot Williams and Miles Plumlee. And that’s what they got in No. 9-ranked Duke’s 76-69 defeat of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

Williams started on the wing and scored 11 points in 31 minutes. Plumlee played seven minutes off the bench.

“I thought our two freshmen really gave us a huge boost,” Krzyzewski said. “Elliot was inserted in the starting lineup, and his ball pressure was outstanding and he came up with 11 points.

Plumlee had four points and two blocks and came up with a really big play to keep a double-digit lead for us when he stole that ball under our bucket and put it in.”

It was as though Krzyzewski had discovered an unexpected gift in practice this week. Williams seems poised to keep his starting spot and play a significant role with five regular season games remaining.

Plumlee’s role will be more limited, especially when senior forward Dave McClure returns from illness. McClure spent Thursday night back at the team hotel with flu-like symptoms.

But Krzyzewski said he had found two good things, so it seems as though Plumlee will continue to provide depth that Duke needs in the post as 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek’s role is diminishing.

Starting with Sunday’s home game against No. 8 Wake Forest, Williams, Plumlee and the rest of the Blue Devils (21-5) will face bigger challenges than St. John’s (12-14), which hasn’t been a relevant part of the New York sports scene in almost 10 years.

Still, it looks like Duke fans who have been on the bandwagon for the two freshmen can pat themselves on the back. Turns out they knew what they were talking about. – Ken Tysiac