Coach K's Resurgence Can Be Attributed to Team USA Success
If you know anything about college basketball, it’s that the popular thing to do is to hate Duke. Unfortunately for those of us who do, it’s been hard to for us to find something legitimate to criticize since the legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski took over the program decades ago. For a little while it seemed we finally had that criticism of him, but that has been squashed recently and we largely believe it was due to his success with the Men’s Olympics basketball team.
His team's performances from the early 90’s to the early 2000’s that included seven elite eights, six title appearances and three national championships established the Duke basketball program as the #1 villain in college basketball. Everyone loves to hate a winner, especially those who do so with players like Christian Laettner who rub everyone the wrong way. However, after his title in 2000-2001, we Duke haters finally had some hope and a legitimate criticism.
He was struggling to recruit the best of the best and even when he did, they weren’t developing or performing at the expected rate. From that season until the 2009-2010 year Duke finally appeared to be falling off and suddenly looked vulnerable. They ranked outside the top twenty in recruiting three times during that span, and even when they were pulling in great classes, the big time players weren’t panning out. They also failed to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in seven out of eight seasons, even though they won more than thirty regular season games four times.
A perfect example of this is his class in 2005 where he brought in blue chip forward Josh McRoberts and stud point guard Greg Paulus. The combination of those two gave Duke the #2 recruiting class in the country that year. McRoberts would’ve been a likely mid first round pick had he entered out of high school and Paulus was supposed to be the perfect guard to play Duke basketball. He was billed as a skilled and talented guard who would likely put up big numbers from day one and stay a few years, winning titles along the way.
McRoberts had a largely forgettable two year career considering the hype he was given and left after his sophomore season to enter the NBA draft, where he fell to second round. Paulus performed even worse, as the best he performed was as in 2008 when he was named 3rd team All ACC and was even benched five games into his senior season for sophomore guard Nolan Smith. Despite both players being named All ACC Freshman in 2005 neither amounted to what was expected of them during their careers in college hoops.
The lack of success from such high profile names began to give Duke a stigma about recruiting and preparing players for the NBA. All of a sudden we started to look back at players like Casey Sanders and Sean Dockery who hadn’t panned out despite being big names back in their high school days. We looked on as McDonald’s All Americans Lance Thomas and Shavlik Randolph both went on to have underwhelming careers and both go undrafted. We saw Shelden Williams become one of the worst top five picks ever. Randolph was even named the biggest recruiting bust of the 2000’s by SI writer, Seth Davis. After all the dominating Coach K had done during his peak, we had finally found his weakness. He, or his system (didn’t matter really) couldn’t prepare players for the NBA.
His system has never been ideal for those who rely on athleticism to get by and who typically get the most hype coming out of high school for being freaks of nature. It just so happened that during this time that there seemed to be an increasing trend of these types of players becoming big time players in college and the NBA. We watched teams like Memphis, UNC, Louisville and later on Kentucky show what athleticism could do and Duke’s teams began to pale in comparison. UCLA took over as the dominant structured team in college basketball as Duke faltered in postseason play.
Though in 2008, Coach K did something that has been the catalyst in reversing that perception of him and the program. The United Stated Olympic basketball team had been going through the worst patch in their history. After watching the beloved Dream Team in 1992 and Dream Team III in 1996 the U.S. fell off. In 2000 the US men’s team nearly lost their final two games before escaping with a gold medal. In 2002 the U.S. finished sixth in the FIBA World Championship and was looked upon as a complete failure. The trend of disappointment continued when the 2004 Olympic only received a Bronze Medal, the worst finish in their history when using professional players.
Coach K than inherited the team and went on to win the gold medal in 2008 with the Redeem Team and again four years later in the 2012 Olympic Games. In doing so he showed an ability to coach a much different style then within his system at Duke. He was able to display his superlative ability to adapt to the talent he had on both Dream Teams, which helped show players that he could in fact feature, and accentuate their athletic talents.
That takes us to now. The success of those teams with Krzyzewski at the helm has done wonders for his recruiting and it’s never been more evident than three weeks back when he reeled in three top ten recruits in a matter of days, including the #1 player overall (Jahlil Okafor) as well as the #1 PG/ #5 overall recruit (Tyus Jones), along with Texas wing #9 Justise Winslow.
Since the success of the 2008 Olympics team, he has only had a recruiting class fall outside the top ten once (#12 in 2012). He has shown an increased ability to land the blue chip recruits as well. Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker were all consensus top three recruits and gave Duke a perceived star player in three out of four classes before the monster haul he has coming in next season. NBA success from Duke players never really waivered that much but the perception is beginning to go away that they cannot succeed in the league due in large part to what Irving has done over the past few seasons, although he is not alone.
So here we are again, with college basketball’s #1 villain back at the top. This leaves us struggling to find criticisms again as we envy how Krzyzewski managed to right the ship and make a basketball powerhouse possibly more dangerous than ever.
For awhile there, Coach K was floundering. I think he fell in love with the 4 out-1 in sets that were so successful with Jay Williams, Duhon, Dunleavey, Boozer and Battier. He became stagnent and only recruited high ranking player who fit his system.
Now he doesn't have a system and adjusts to the talent and strengths each team has season by season.
He was absolutely in a recruiting rut before Team USA came calling.
Anyone else seem a similarity between Roy Willaims now and Coach K right before Team USA? Getting high ranked guys, but not the cream of the crop. And when UNC is getting those top 10 guys, they arn't panning out like McAdoo.