Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Don't blame Olympics for Duke's slide

Mike Krzyzewski’s announcement Tuesday that he will coach the U.S. national team for three more years will be unpopular with some Duke fans.

Some blame Duke’s recent decline on Krzyzewski’s involvement with Team USA, which he coached to the Olympic gold medal last summer in Beijing. It’s logical to assume that Duke suffers if Krzyzewski is distracted by his “other” job – restoring the United States as the pre-eminent power in international basketball.

But a closer look at Duke’s shortcomings over the last few seasons shows that recruiting failures are the cause of the Blue Devils’ failure to advance beyond the regional semifinals in the last five NCAA Tournaments.

Krzyzewski’s involvement with the Olympic team probably doesn’t have much of an impact on those recruiting shortcomings. Rival North Carolina’s rejuvenation under coach Roy Williams has been a much bigger factor in Duke’s modest recent slide.

The Blue Devils seemed to land virtually every recruit they wanted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bill Guthridge and then Matt Doherty were running a lurching North Carolina program.

When you can sign Elton Brand, Shane Battier, William Avery, Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Corey Maggette and Carlos Boozer within a three-year period, you’re going to dominate college basketball even though some of those players will leave early for the pros.

But under Williams, North Carolina now is getting players – Brandan Wright is an obvious example – who might have gone to Duke if the Tar Heels were coached by, say, Doherty. Most importantly, Williams has done a better job than Krzyzewski of developing multiple options in recruiting.

Williams was bitterly disappointed to lose frontcourt targets Samardo Samuels to Louisville and Delvon Roe to Michigan State in the Class of 2008. But Williams still landed an elite big man in Ed Davis, who played a key supporting role as a freshman in the team’s run to the 2009 NCAA title.

Krzyzewski also missed on a coveted post player in the Class of 2008 when Greg Monroe picked Georgetown. The difference is, the big guys the Blue Devils signed – Miles Plumlee and Olek Czyz – didn’t come close to matching the production of Davis as freshmen.

One part of Krzyzewski’s recruiting strategy puts him at a disadvantage in developing multiple options. Krzyzewski has said in the past that he prefers not to sign Duke’s full allotment of 13 scholarship players because that leaves many talented players on the bench and headed for transfer if they don’t get much playing time.

So Duke suffers more than North Carolina on key recruiting misses because Williams is recruiting for a deeper bench and rotates more players. And Krzyzewski has missed on a lot of key targets – Monroe, Patrick Patterson, John Wall and Kenny Boynton in particular – in the last three classes.

Again, this subtle difference in program-building strategies has little or nothing to do with Krzyzewski’s involvement with the Olympic team. But it has everything to do with North Carolina participating in three of the last five Final Fours with two NCAA titles while Duke has failed to reach any of those Final Fours.

Duke’s Class of 2010 recruiting may indicate a shift in strategy on Krzyzewski’s part. The Blue Devils already have a commitment from forward Josh Hairston plus backcourt commitments from Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton. There’s a good chance Dawkins will report to campus a year early to help Duke fill a gaping void at guard created by Elliot Williams’ unexpected transfer.

And Duke still is chasing multiple targets in the class, particularly at point guard, where Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving both hold scholarship offers from the Blue Devils, according to

A monster Class of 2010 haul could quickly halt Duke fans’ angst over their coach’s dual coaching responsibilities. Roy Williams doesn’t appear to be leaving North Carolina anytime soon, so the Tar Heels will remain an obstacle for Duke.

But if Krzyzewski can get the right talent in place, coaching the national team shouldn’t hinder the Blue Devils.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

I could not disagree more with this article. If it were as obvious as recruiting more player (towards the 13 allotment), then I think K would be smart enough to have adjusted his thinking by now. Get real.

Anonymous said...

Losing Johnny Dawkins is what hurts the most. He would have really thrived in the absence of K to the US team. His recruiting skills are sorely missed. He could have risen to a higher role within the program while K coached, and would have become K's eventual replacement. But this whole US Team commitment thing is definitely not helping the Duke Bball program.

Anonymous said...

i agree dawkins leaving was killer...wojo and others won't get it done.

the biggest problem duke has right now is williams at UNC and now Calipari at KY....calipari at ky will likely hurt unc too.

Anonymous said...

if i was a once great coach that got used to winning and was relegated to coaching sub par athletes like cherokee parks, wojo, and paulus....i'd probably jump at the chance to coach some real players like lebron and kobe.

of course him doing this only hurts duke more....but i can't blame him, like they will do anything to coach K there, he's safe. he was probably the only person on the planet that could stand up for a bunch of lacrosse rapists and get away with that too.

AJ said...

I think that although Dook's recent slide isn't solely caused by K's commitment to the US Olympic team, I think it is a major reason.
First of all, I know that the "exhaustion" factor has been brought up before. K doesn't get much rest between seasons, bc he is spending his summers coaching the Olympic team. But you also have to consider that the prized recruits are going to wonder why the head coach isn't coming to see them, or why he only puts in a brief, token appearance. If I were a 5 Star recruit, I would hope it would be the head coach calling me, coming to my games, and having dinner with my family, NOT his assistant coach who was known as a better floor slapper than actual player!
Secondly, as a recruit, I would have to ask myself, "How committed to his college team, if he also has this Olympic gig going for him?" K "won" the gold medal last year, but his college team got bounced in the 3rd round, a continuing trend for the past 8 years, minus one trip to the Final Four since having the 2001 championship handed to him in a win over Maryland. Considering this is a coach that made his reputation on the number of Final Fours he went to in the 90's, and now he can't seem to get past the Sweet Sixteen, you would think that after showing everyone he could win in the Olympics, he would now concentrate fully on showing the college basketball world he still has it on that level as well. Instead, by agreeing to continue as coach for the Olympic team, it appears as though K has accepted the fact that his time as an elite coach in the NCAA has passed. He is focusing more on riding the success of a team of All-Stars (that could win with my 3 year old as head coach) to cement his basketball legacy.
Finally, fair or not, K is getting older, although he tries to hide it with weekly dye jobs on the hair! Recruits hear it from other recruiters all the time, and K used to use it when Dean was still coaching Carolina. "[Insert coach's name here] is getting old. He's been thinking about retirement, and I've heard that it may happen in the next 4 years. Then where will you be? Who will be your coach then? Do you really want to risk it? I can guarantee you that I will never leave my University, unless they kick me out! And with your unique brand of skills, plus the other players we have coming in with you, they won't be kicking me out anytime over the next 3 years! And will probably give me another 4 years of losing seasons after you graduate because our team will win so much while you're here!"
Now, finally, factor in the fact that K's name has been kicked around twice in the last few years as a possible replacement to Phil Jackson as the Lakers' coach, and I think a lot of top recruits might be worried they will sign with K, but end up with Wojo as the coach by their senior year!

Anonymous said...

Someone has to take the blame. When Coach K was committed to Duke the were they talk of the college basketball world. Now he is splitting his time with coaching the Olympic teams. Losing Johnny Dawkins was a major blow to recruiting can someone please tell me why does he (Coach K) plays everyone on his bench when playing non-conference teams and as soon as conference play starts he only has a 7 man rotation? Why was Plumlee and Czyz on the bench. You have to play in big games in order to get over the big jtters. Elliot Williams was proof of that.

MichaelProcton said...

AJ, it takes a lot more than a "3 year old" to win gold. Hell, UNC's star-studded cavalcade of Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and George Karl sure as shit couldn't get it done. Further, given that Krzyzewski has a lifetime contract with Duke and has stated time and time again that's the only place he'll be, rumor and innuendo will continue to be the only thing that places him anywhere but Durham.