March 15, 2004
DURHAM In the first half of Duke's semifinal win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski sat on the bench with his glare fixed on referee Karl Hess. Krzyzewski barked at Hess, blaming him for having a bias against Duke guard J.J. Redick, who was riddled by foul trouble in his first two games of the tournament. Hess, who already had called a technical foul on the coach earlier in the game, stared straight ahead and took it. You're supposed to be better than that, Krzyzewski screamed. It's too bad Krzyzewski can't be any better when it comes to his behavior toward referees, or that the officials can't stand up for themselves and put an end to the coach's unreasonable abuse. Twenty years ago, Krzyzewski famously griped about the double standard enjoyed by North Carolina and coach Dean Smith. Now that Smith has retired and Duke is the ACC's premier program, the double standard has been passed along to Krzyzewski. Not that he will acknowledge it. When a reporter pressed Krzyzewski to discuss a technical foul and subsequent blow-up at the referees in Georgia Tech's win at Durham on March 3, he dismissed it with typical smugness. You sound like my wife, Krzyzewski said. The truth is that Krzyzewski was in the wrong in the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and again at Greensboro Coliseum. After referee Ray Natili made a pair of questionable calls that went against the Blue Devils in Durham, Krzyzewski railed on him until Hess had enough and called the technical. The coach had to be held back from charging onto the court by assistant coach Johnny Dawkins. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. During the final television timeout, Krzyzewski again had to be restrained, this time by Dawkins and assistant Chris Collins. He deserved to be ejected at that moment, but everybody looked the other way. The referees are not blameless in this fiasco. They afford Krzyzewski more leeway than they do others, as much because they fear him as they respect his Hall of Fame resume. How else to explain this: Natili, the same referee who ejected not one but two coaches in a Big South game involving Winthrop and Radford on Jan. 5, was not inclined to even punish Krzyzewski for his profane and embarrassing outburst. Even if he acknowledged to missing the calls, that kind of public humiliation by a coach is far out of the realm of standard procedure. Days after the Georgia Tech incident, Krzyzewski was reminded of his comments about Smith but deflected the question again. I think whenever I say something I thought at that moment I believed it, or else I wouldn't have said it, Krzyzewski said. I've heard for the last three or four years that we get all the calls. Well, I didn't get a technical because I thought I got all the calls. In a further affront to objective observers everywhere, Krzyzewski refused to admit that his badgering of the referees is even something worth talking about. I don't think you work an official. Somebody who never coached or played the game came up with that expression, Krzyzewski said. Good officials just want to make sure that they have a good atmosphere for the game. You don't have it unless you have some communication with the players and the coaches. Depending on the game, that would determine how much you need to do. I think there's a certain amount of dialogue that you just need, because communication is needed during the game. I think a really good officiating crew A limited amount of dialogue with both coaching staffs adds greatly to how well the game is done. Nobody should begrudge Krzyzewski for receiving the benefit of the doubt more often than not. In any field, special treatment is a perk of success. But because he abuses that status, Krzyzewski needs to be taken to task. Like some of the referees he's been harassing lately, he is supposed to be better than that.
Streak Ends, But Not Excellence The debate about which program is the greatest in ACC history will always rage, but Duke recently missed a chance to strengthen its credentials for that argument in the ACC Tournament. With a win, the Blue Devils would have tied North Carolina's record of 15 conference titles and 75 ACC tournament wins. The two schools already were tied with three NCAA championships, but since Duke's all have come in the last 13 years, it has the advantage of short-term memory on its side. Some of the Blue Devils' five consecutive ACC championships came in years when the league was not as strong because of NBA defections, but the accomplishment should not be downplayed. The kind of turnover prevalent in college basketball makes it almost impossible to maintain greatness in such a tough conference or even in lesser leagues, and Duke itself took more than its share of early NBA hits (Elton Brand, William Avery, Corey Maggette, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer) during its amazing run. To win five straight ACC Tournament championships is incredible, Maryland coach Gary Williams said. I don't think you'll ever see that again in the ACC. That's one of those things that I think is looked over sometimes, because of the importance of the NCAA Tournament, but I don't think there's been many programs that have ever pulled that off anywhere. Duke will try to start a new streak next year, and it will have a good chance of getting on equal historical footing with UNC. The Tar Heels, by the way, have not won an ACC championship since 1998. Coach Roy Williams might take a cue from Krzyzewski and stress the tournament's importance, or his favorite school will lose more status than it already has. We think it's a great tournament, and we were proud to be the champions of the last five years, Krzyzewski said. We would have been proud to have been the sixth, but we're also proud to shake the hands of the new champions. This year's team, despite the disappointing ACC Tournament loss, still has a great chance to add another impressive chapter to the Duke basketball dynasty. The Blue Devils will enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, and they came within one clutch play of entering as ACC champions. At the end of the overtime loss to Maryland, sophomore center Shelden Williams who quickly is evolving into one of the better post players in the nation was on the bench, having fouled out in regulation. Sharpshooters Redick and Daniel Ewing missed several wide-open three-pointers at crucial late moments that would have put Duke in great position to grab yet another ACC title. Those things don't happen very often. Even in defeat, the Blue Devils showed in the ACC Tournament that they have a combination of talent and coaching that can be matched by very few teams in the nation. They're even good enough to beat quality opponents on nights when one of their stars has a bad game, another important quality for a serious NCAA contender. Especially if Williams can stay out of foul trouble, it figures to take a hot night from an outstanding opponent to knock out the Devils. If that sounds familiar, it should. ACC championship or not, Duke is still Duke, and the Blue Devils have the rest of March and, if they need it, the first week of April to make everyone forget their surprising loss to Maryland in Greensboro. Given their recent history, it probably wouldn't be wise to bet against them.