Friday, June 20, 2008

High expectations could be burden for Heels

ESPN analyst Digger Phelps’ words immediately came to mind earlier this week when I heard while on vacation that North Carolina underclassmen Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green were withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to school.

On April 25, when I told Phelps that Lawson and Ellington were “testing the waters” of the NBA draft, the former Notre Dame coach replied quickly and decisively. “They’ll be back,” Phelps said.

While working out for NBA teams, Lawson, Ellington and Green all came to realize what Phelps knew from the start. The 2009 draft isn’t expected to be as strong as this year’s draft, so all three probably will benefit financially from another year of college that should help them get picked higher a year from now.

What does this all mean for the Tar Heels?

For starters, it’s a credit to the players and the program that it appears they are in good enough academic standing to have a chance to return for another year. Many times college players who have their hearts set on leaving for the NBA have difficulty making it to their spring semester classes, but that’s apparently not the case with the Tar Heel players.

On the court, it means North Carolina will be an overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA title. The Tar Heels will have an astounding eight McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster, with senior center Tyler Hansbrough almost certain to break the ACC scoring record while he pursues national player of the year honors for a second straight season.

This is a good thing, of course, for the Tar Heels and their fans.Coach Roy Williams has said often over the past few years that he prefers talented players with experience. He will have that in 2008-09.

The only problem is that the Tar Heels will face incredible pressure to win the NCAA title because the expectations will be so high. Despite two straight ACC championship seasons, a segment of fans remains frustrated with the Tar Heels’ meltdowns against Georgetown in the 2007 East Regional final and against Kansas in the 2008 national semifinals.

Nothing less than an NCAA title will satisfy some of those fans. Every slight misstep or flaw on the team next season will be analyzed to death. That will be a heavy burden for Hansbrough and his teammates during November, December, January and February as they labor knowing that what happens in March and April is the only thing that matters.

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Coach K fantasy camp serious business

It’s not about the basketball for Mike Troy.

He is a 48-year-old investment banker from Greenwich, Conn. He realizes that five days at Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s K Academy fantasy camp won’t make him an NBA prospect or a playground legend.

“I may be small, but I’m slow,” Troy said humbly. Troy is back at the K Academy for the third time because he enjoys the camaraderie. Campers spend $10,000 to be coached by and mingle with the Duke staff and former players. Mike Gminski, Christian Laettner, Jason Williams and J.J. Redick are among the former Duke greats working at this year’s camp.

Proceeds go to the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund, so the fee is partly tax deductible. The Duke coaches and players enjoy the camp because it’s a reunion for them, but say they take the camp games seriously.

“They come here to get the experience of being coached and playing at Duke and being in the Duke program,” said Duke associate head coach Chris Collins. “We try to take it seriously and try to coach them just like we would if we were coaching our guys.”

Troy’s first adult camp experience came five years ago at Michael Jordan’s camp in Las Vegas, which Troy has attended twice. Troy said Jordan’s camp is like a trip to a fancy restaurant, while Duke’s is like a home-cooked meal.

Jordan played one on one with campers the first time Troy went but not as much the second time. “He’s cocky,” Troy said, “but deservedly so.”

Jordan’s camp has the glamour of the Las Vegas setting. Krzyzewski’s has more of a family atmosphere because the alumni of the Duke program return to their school to participate.

In both cases, the allure for campers is spending time with renowned coaches and players rather than aspiring to play like them.

“You pick up little things about the game and about strategy, but you’re not coming here to increase your knowledge of basketball by 30 percent,” Troy said. “You’re here to have fun.”

No big changes for assistants
Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski say their responsibilities haven’t changed much now that they have been promoted to associate head coach.

The former associate head coach, Johnny Dawkins, recently left to coach Stanford.

“We’ve all (already) been so fully entrenched with what’s going on with coaching,” Collins said. “We’ve had our hand in recruiting and game preparation, scouting, practice time, drills on the floor. We were very much involved in all those things, and I don’t think that will change.”

Both assistants will join Krzyzewski in China to coach the U.S. Olympic team. Collins said that in addition to being an honor, working the national team serves like a clinic for Duke’s coaches because they are exposed to new ideas.

It’s admittedly an adjustment when the coaches return to campus, though.

“You’re used to guys hitting nine out of 10 shots and guys playing at the top of the square and flying around,” Collins said. “You get back to the college level, and these guys are great, great talents. And it’s like, ‘These guys aren’t that good.’ You have to kind of put everything back in relative terms. Not everybody is LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.”

Williams a newsmaker
Center Shelden Williams, who’s with the Atlanta Hawks, has made the most news among the former Duke players recently.

Williams is engaged to one of women’s basketball’s most famous players, Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks.

“She has a national championship (at Tennessee),” Williams said, “and I don’t.”

Williams also had his vehicle carjacked at gunpoint in December. Two suspects were arrested. Despite being a victim, Williams said he isn’t walking around scared.

“I was in a grocery store parking lot next to a barber shop in broad daylight with no jewelry on. Nothing,” he said. “And they did that. So it’s something I can’t run from. It could happen to anybody.”

Early commitments a concern
The trend toward early commitments doesn’t make sense to Jason Williams. Though he was national player of the year as a junior at Duke, he said he wasn’t highly recruited until late in his high school career.

He can’t understand early commitments such as that of 6-foot-4 eighth grader Michael Avery of Lake Sherwood, Calif., to Kentucky.

“That’s the most humbling experience, for a coach to make an eighth grader appreciate what an opportunity he’s going to have at a university like this,” Williams said. “It’s not just basketball. Basketball is secondary.”

Wojciechowski also has concerns. “I’m not sure it’s really healthy,” he said. “You look at any program over the course of 12 months and 24 months, there’s amazing changes from year to year. How can you predict five and six years down the line what the program is going to look like? You can’t. So to make a decision that far out, I’m not in favor of it.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ACC recruiting strong this year

Wednesday’s (June 4) Charlotte Observer highlights the strong basketball recruiting classes the ACC is putting together for 2008 and 2009.

Eight of the 24 McDonald’s All-Americans in 2008 are headed to ACC schools. The ACC also has four top-20 commitments for 2009, according to, while the rest of the nation has just two.

Some interesting points from respected recruiting analysts Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports and Dave Telep of did not get into the print edition.

The ACC is coming off one of its worst stretches of NCAA tournament performance ever with a 19-15 record over the last three years. Telep traces that back to recruiting.

In 2007, the ACC landed just one top-10 recruit – Duke’s Kyle Singler. In 2006, North Carolina dominated recruiting in the ACC, landing the top players at three positions (Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright).

Georgia Tech, with Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, also signed two elite players in 2006, but both stayed just one year.

In other words, the ACC needs to land more top talent – and looks like it will in the next two classes.

"This thing is very, very cyclical," Telep said. "The ACC has been on top of the cycle in some years. And in other years they are not. It’s just a cyclical, cyclical thing."

Telep cautions that the ACC might not experience the same, immediate surge in 2008 that the Pac-10 did after getting Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless in 2007. Telep said the 2008 class as a whole just isn’t as strong as others in recent years.

But there’s little doubt that the ACC is helping itself with its current recruiting.

Gibbons is especially impressed with Clemson commitment Milton Jennings in the Class of 2009. Jennings scored 47 points in one AAU game at the recent Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, and Gibbons is listing him as a small forward because at 6-foot-9 he is a gifted 3-point shooter.
"He is a bona fide candidate to be a McDonald’s All-American," Gibbons said. "He’s the best recruit that Oliver (Purnell) has brought in from a national perspective."

Clemson hasn’t had a McDonald’s All-America recruit since Sharone Wright in 1991.

Gibbons said the balance of the league depends on the ACC getting top recruits at schools besides North Carolina and Duke. To that end, Florida State (Chris Singleton), Georgia Tech (Iman Shumpert), Virginia (Sylvan Landesberg) and Wake Forest (Al-Farouq Aminu) all recruited 2008 McDonald’s All-Americans.

"It’s important," Gibbons said. "It keeps it competitive, and it keeps the North Carolinas and the Dukes from totally being dominant."
- Ken Tysiac

Sunday, June 1, 2008

AD choice bodes well for Duke

At first glance, Duke’s hiring of Kevin White as athletics director appears to put Notre Dame coach Mike Brey in line as the eventual successor to Mike Krzyzewski as the Blue Devils’ men’s basketball coach.
Brey, who assisted Krzyzewski for eight seasons beginning in 1987-88, would have been on the short list anyway. He is one of Krzyzewski’s most successful former aides even though his experience at Duke isn’t as extensive as, say, that of Johnny Dawkins.
Krzyzewski and White – who was Notre Dame’s AD – both spoke to Brey before White left for the Duke job.
"Mike (Brey) feels, he’s got a lot of emotional equity here at Duke," White said. "There’s just no question about that. He was on one hand encouraging me to stay the course, but he had this dual personality thing going, where Mike would say, ‘You can’t turn down Duke.’. "
White spoke warmly about Brey, so it would seem he would be receptive to Brey when it comes time to replace Krzyzewski. But here’s why you shouldn’t bet on that scenario.
At 57, White said he is gearing up for one last good run in an AD job at Duke. Krzyzewski has been around for so long it seems like he could be retiring soon.
But he’s only 61 and apparently in good health with enough energy to coach Duke and the U.S. Olympic team. The odds that Krzyzewski still will be coaching at Duke when White retires seem good.
White’s successor might be the one who hires Krzyzewski’s successor.
Overall, White’s hire was excellent for Duke. He is so well respected nationally that he has been president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Notre Dame’s athletes performed well on the field and better in the classroom during White’s tenure. He is known for his business acumen, too, which should help Duke make dearly needed facilities improvements for football.
This hire isn’t without a down side. White’s football hires at Notre Dame have been questionable.
He hired Charlie Weis, who directed Notre Dame to a school record for losses as the Irish finished with a 3-9 record in 2008. White hired George O’Leary, who never coached a game there because he submitted an inaccurate resume.
Tyrone Willingham, who lasted three seasons, was hired after O’Leary’s hasty departure.
But the good news for Duke is that White doesn’t have to hire a football coach. Before former AD Joe Alleva left for Louisiana State, he landed David Cutcliffe, who brings a solid track record as a coach at Mississippi.
And aside from his football hirings, White performed well at Notre Dame.
"He’s an ideal choice for Duke," said Ken Haines, the Raycom Sports president and CEO who lives in Charlotte and has known White for 16 years.
"He is very academic-oriented, understands fully the educational mission of the institution and I think has the proper perspective of where athletics belongs in the big picture." KEN TYSIAC