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Coach K Masterpiece: European Vacation

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

August 5, 2002 DURHAM - Even North Carolina fans recognize the genius - though they might call it evil genius - of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. This comes from a poster on an Inside Carolina message board, a private board devoted to UNC athletics: "Hey, I hate the guy, but he is not the one that fell off the turnip truck. ..."

The poster was referring to Coach K's latest act of abomination, or genius, or both: a proposed preseason trip to London. While some details need to be worked out, including final approval by the NCAA, Krzyzewski hopes to take his team to London during Duke's fall break, Oct. 11-15, to play a handful of games - four or five, most likely - against professional competition. The extra games obviously would be beneficial for his freshman-heavy team, but just as important are the additional 10 practice sessions Duke would get to prepare for England.

Basically, Coach K found another loophole in the NCAA rulebook. He does it all the time. Frankly, he should be commended for it. This isn't rule-breaking, not even close. It's simply examining the rules closely and figuring out an above-board way to make them work for the Blue Devils. There's nothing wrong with that.

Who got around the NCAA's five-player limit on recruiting classes? Krzyzewski, by convincing Lee Melchionni to walk on as a freshman, giving Duke a sixth scholarship-caliber newcomer. North Carolina coach Matt Doherty later adopted the same plan, getting former UNC football commitment David Noel to walk on to the basketball team for his first year on campus. But Krzyzewski was first. He's almost always first.

Who was the first coach to capitalize on the NCAA rule, four years ago, allowing incoming freshmen to attend summer school? Krzyzewski was, by showing recruits how they could use summer school to position themselves to graduate from Duke in three years, allowing them to have their degree - and also the ego-building early jump to the NBA. If not for the lure of a three-year degree, Jason Williams would have been more likely to turn pro after his sophomore season. Pretty good idea, eh?

Show Krzyzewski an NCAA rule relating to men's basketball, and he will try to do one of two things: use it to his advantage, or find a legal way around it.

The trip to London would be the latest significant example. While the rest of the country can't begin practice until Oct. 12, Duke would be able to start almost two weeks earlier in preparation. The NCAA allows such foreign-traveling teams 10 practices before departure, and with a departure date in the Oct. 8 range, that would put Duke's first practice of the 2002-03 men's basketball season at roughly Sept. 27 or 28.

Competitive advantage, anyone? Sure it is. Duke is one of only a handful of schools that offers a fall break, which is the only reason it could undertake such an October excursion in the first place. A college team can go abroad only when class is not in session according to that school's official calendar, which is why most foreign trips occur in the summer (when freshmen can't go) or winter holidays (what's the point?).

If the NCAA approves the trip, and Duke officials say there's no reason to expect that the NCAA won't offer a green light, one of the most vital freshman classes in the country will get an extra two weeks of practice, and five games of premium competition, under its belt.

And just to show that Krzyzewski's scheming knows no bounds, consider this added perk to a London vacation: While there, he figures to have an in-home visit with the family of Luol Deng, a native of the Sudan whose parents live in England. Deng, a 6-7 wing at Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy, is the best high school senior this side of LeBron James, which means he is the best high school senior expected to play in college.

Well done.

Randolph: Impressive Freshman

Shavlik Randolph's stock in the Class of 2002 began dropping during the summer before his senior year at Raleigh (N.C.) Broughton, thanks to a foot injury that limited his game and his unfortunate pairing with dominant power forward Amare Stoudemire at summer events.

By graduation, Randolph had dropped from the consensus No. 1 player in his class to No. 12 by both Dave Telep and Bob Gibbons, No. 15 by Brick Oettinger and a ridiculous No. 26 by Clark Francis.

Because of Shavlik's slide, the typical ACC basketball fan might expect McDonald's All-America Game MVP J.J. Redick or power forward Shelden Williams to be Duke's most valuable freshman this season. Duke people aren't so sure.

One basketball staffer said Randolph has been the most impressive freshman in summer pickup games, showing tremendous quickness and perimeter ball-handling skills for a 6-10 forward. Randolph often was paired against Mike Dunleavy when Dunleavy was in town, and he even guarded Jason Williams on occasion. Of course, Redick and Shelden Williams have been looking pretty good this summer, too.

Two Standing After QB Shuffle

About two months after starting quarterback D. Bryant was kicked off the team for faltering academics, one of the official candidates to replace him this fall was charged with driving while impaired. Publicity-wise, Chris Wispelwey's wrong-way drive down a Chapel Hill street (according to police reports) was awful for Duke. Football-wise, it probably won't matter much.

Although coach Carl Franks had said, before Wispelwey's DWI charge, that all three remaining quarterbacks on the depth chart would get a look this fall, that was mostly talk. The 6-5, 220-pound Wispelwey had fallen far behind fellow sophomore Adam Smith and Rutgers transfer Chris Dapolito, both of whom starred in the spring game - outperforming even Bryant. By late July, though, Franks said he didn't know who would be the starter between Smith and Dapolito.

"I have no idea right now," Franks said. "Chris did well in the spring, but he hasn't played (a game) in two years."

Franks said Smith and Dapolito were similar. About the only distinction he seemed inclined to make was this one: "If you put them in a 40-yard dash, Dapolito's probably a little faster ... but I don't know if that matters."

As for Bryant, he transferred to one of the few college football programs seemingly less impressive than the one he left. He will play this fall for Iowa Wesleyan, which won one game last season in NAIA.

"I wanted to go somewhere and play right away," Bryant said, "and Iowa Wesleyan was the best place for me at this time."

Given his academic and athletic pedigree, and the late timing of his transfer, Iowa Wesleyan might have been the only place for Bryant at this time.