July 10, 2002 DURHAM Now that it is over, ended prematurely thanks to academic shortcomings, let the epitaph on D. Bryant's career at Duke make this clear: Decision-making was never his strongest point.
That was obvious almost from the moment he stepped onto campus and declared himself a two-sport athlete who would play quarterback on the football team and guard on the basketball team. That wasn't just a bad decision. It was disastrous.
After redshirting the 1998 football season, Bryant joined the basketball team and stayed with the Blue Devils, even though he was roughly the 12th man in an eight-man rotation, all the way through the national title game. That was well and good for Bryant's basketball joy ride, but it was awful for his football development, as he couldn't focus 100 percent or even 50 percent on his spring football duties until early April. It was awful for his academics, because within a few months Bryant had flunked out of Duke for the 1999 fall semester.
Credit the strong-armed Bryant for being able to return to Duke and stay eligible for two seasons. He started seven games in 2000 and all 11 games in 2001, producing 3,821 yards of total offense eighth all-time on the Duke career chart in those two seasons. He was capable of greatness, mainly against N.C. State, which he torched for a school-record 16 consecutive completions in a 310-yard passing day in 2000. Bryant followed that up with a 31-for-53, 400-yard passing game against the Wolfpack in 2001. So, yes, he could be spectacular.
But again, decision-making wasn't his strongest attribute. For two years he mystified coach Carl Franks by repeatedly throwing into double coverage, or late into the deep middle portion of the field, or directly at a defender sitting all over a short route. In two seasons, Bryant threw for 16 touchdowns, but a whopping 27 interceptions as well.
There won't be a third season. Bryant's final year was taken from him because of academic shortcomings. His Duke career is finished. He plans to transfer to a smaller school, possibly at the NAIA level, to get a final year out of his playing career.
One can only hope he gets his degree from Duke instead of finishing off his education at whichever NAIA football factory he's likely to choose. That would be the worst decision of all. According to a Duke football release, Bryant intends for his sheepskin to read: Duke University. It might mean returning to school after his college career is over, but that would be a major victory for Bryant. It would be a great decision.
In the meantime, Bryant's premature departure means an untested sophomore will become the starting quarterback and that might not be the worst thing to happen to the Blue Devils. It's not like Bryant lifted the team to victory. He played in 22 career games, and Duke lost every one of them. Was it all Bryant's fault? Of course not. But did he help the team get over its weaknesses and shortcomings? Of course not.
Whoever replaces him, and the most likely candidates are Rutgers transfer Chris Dapolito and spring game hero Adam Smith (12-for-17, 154 yards, no interceptions, three touchdowns), Duke's offense figures to have a quarterback with less mobility than Bryant, less arm strength than Bryant but better decision-making capabilities. In an offense that needs its quarterback to make the correct read even more than it needs him to make an unexpectedly athletic play, that's a fair trade.
Krzyzewski: Protecting No. 1?
Whose best interests are at heart here?
For the second year in a row, there are indications that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn't distinguished himself when it comes to putting his players ahead of himself. Harsh? Look at the facts.
Fact: Last summer, Duke sophomore Jason Williams was projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Krzyzewski counseled Williams to return to school, finish his degree, then enter the 2002 draft. Williams did just that, and while he completed his Duke degree in late June, he also dropped from No. 1 overall in 2001 (maximum value about $12 million over first three years) to No. 2 in 2002 (max about $11 million) when he was selected by the Chicago Bulls. He also lost a year toward his first eight-figure (or even nine-figure) NBA contract. Financially speaking, at least, it was not a good decision.
Fact: This summer Krzyzewski counseled junior Mike Dunleavy to return to school for his senior season, despite signs that Dunleavy definitely would be taken among the first four choices. While neither Dunleavy nor Krzyzewski commented on just what the coach advised his player to do, this much is known: Weeks before the deadline to enter the NBA draft, Krzyzewski named Dunleavy a co-captain for the 2002-03 season. You think he recommended Dunleavy to turn pro now?
Of course, Krzyzewski is not alone here. In two of the more famous examples of a well-regarded ACC mentor offering questionable advice to his underclass star, Maryland coach Gary Williams encouraged sophomore Chris Wilcox to remain in school this year, and former UNC coach Dean Smith invited junior Vince Carter to do the same in 1998. Both situations at least temporarily strained the relationship between the coach and the player and/or his family, although there's no evidence of the same thing in the Duke examples.
In each case, though, the coach painted a more conservative picture of the player's probable draft position than those being offered by many agents, scouts and others. In each case, the coach emphasized the benefits of returning to school. But in each case and it actually hurts to write this the agents definitely had more accurate information than the coaches. The players became high lottery picks, extremely rich young men. The coaches were left to pick up the pieces.
In the cases of Williams and Dunleavy, a reasonable person could argue either side of either player's decision.
- Williams should have returned for his junior season because it allowed him to earn his degree and also because he needed a year of sole leadership, without Shane Battier around to help, to prepare to lead in the NBA. On the other hand, Williams was lucky not to have suffered a career-ending injury as a junior, and besides, how can the No. 1 overall pick not enter the draft?
- Dunleavy should have returned for his senior season because he would have become the main man, a featured scorer even more ready to dominate as an NBA rookie (in 2003-04). He also would have finished off his degree while enjoying what could have been one of the truly great senior seasons in college basketball history. On the other hand, Dunleavy is close enough to his degree to finish it up via correspondence, or with a few summer sessions. Additionally, as the No. 3 overall pick in this draft, at best he could reasonably hope to rise just one spot in the next draft, with high school phenom LeBron James likely to go No. 1 overall in 2003.
Reasonable arguments, all of them, from all sides, but Krzyzewski chose the stay-in-school tack for both of them. Was it the best advice possible? For Duke and Coach K, definitely. For Williams and Dunleavy? Only time will tell.