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College's Best Coach Remains Very Prickly

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

March 10, 2003 DURHAM — Mike Krzyzewski ended the regular season in a foul mood, and the next month or two may not make him much happier. First, for the first time in six years, Duke is not a serious national championship contender. The Blue Devils aren't even the favorite — or the second favorite — to win the ACC Tournament, an event they have won the past four seasons. This time around Wake Forest and Maryland are better picks to win, although anything can happen, including another Duke title. Just don't count on it. You can bet Krzyzewski isn't.

The Blue Devils enter the postseason on the heels of some of their worst basketball of the season, insipid play that saw them lose 72-71 at mediocre St. John's and then sleepwalk through the second half of a 72-56 win against Florida State in the final home game of the season.

“We were bad at St. John's,” Krzyzewski said. “We just didn't play well.”

The Blue Devils were worse in the second half against Florida State, getting outscored at home by the last-place team in the ACC. Krzyzewski kept the media waiting almost 45 minutes — three times as long as usual — before beginning his post-game press conference by cutting off a reporter trying to ask the first question.

“I'll start with opening remarks,” Krzyzewski said.

Krzyzewski then laid into the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd of 9,314, saying on at least four occasions, “I'm not blaming anyone,” and then doing his best to blame his team's poor second half on the uninspiring crowd.

“I thought the second half, the atmosphere was horrible,” Krzyzewski said. “It wasn't conducive, and we didn't play as well, and Florida State didn't quit. Ö In the second half, there was no emotion. I've never seen Cameron like that. I'm not blaming anyone, but it's not like there were chill bumps going down. They were like children. People were yelling for (senior mop-up player) Andre Buckner with 20 minutes to go in the game and not even realizing — not that Andre can't contribute — but I think it's indicative of the attitude that has been surrounding our team all year.”

In one sound bite, Krzyzewski managed to insult not only Buckner but also his team's famous fans, who have pitched tents outside Cameron Indoor Stadium for several games this season, enduring snow and ice storms. It was an impressive bit of myopia, even for Krzyzewski.

The coach wasn't finished with the fans, showing his displeasure with those late arrivals in the upper deck for not being at the arena 20 minutes before tip-off for the pre-game ceremony for seniors Buckner, Dahntay Jones and Casey Sanders.

“It was not a good atmosphere in here tonight, first or second half,” Krzyzewski said. “When the seniors were introduced, half the people in the upper deck were not here. That's not a good thing. You think that's a good thing? Come on. I've had seniors who left this court, and people are just, ëThank you.' Half the upstairs was empty.”

Of course, the fans that sit upstairs aren't students but real people with real jobs and real families, and maybe after a day at the office and dinner with the kids they were doing their best to get to the game by the opening tap. Maybe Krzyzewski should think about that. Duke is the best basketball program in the world, but the world does not revolve around the Duke basketball program.

Meanwhile, much more play like this, and Duke won't be the best program in the world, or even the ACC, or even the state. Maryland is pulling even with the Blue Devils, and Wake Forest under Skip Prosser, for this season at least, has surpassed Duke.

That's probably at the root of Krzyzewski's snippiness this season, when he has tried to cut down reporters more than in the past several years combined. Almost every post-game press conference has seen a confrontation between Krzyzewski and a member of the media, and Krzyzewski always comes across as immature and overprotective, although the sycophants around him would never say as much. Coach K can do no wrong because he's Coach K and you're not, and he has the magic fingerprint that opens the elevator to his office and you don't.

Krzyzewski is the best coach in college basketball — the statistical evidence is overwhelming — but this team has holes, and he knows it.

Jones has become better than Krzyzewski dreamed, as evidenced by his recent admission that he “never expected” Jones to become the team's best all-around player this season. However, Jones remains prone to incredibly dumb plays, especially for a fifth-year senior, like his behind-the-back pass on a fastbreak against FSU that led to a turnover and a tongue-lashing from Krzyzewski as soon as he could bench Jones.

“Dahntay made a horrible play, whether he was a senior or a freshman,” Krzyzewski said. “We have a four-on-one, and it's a horrible play. Just execute, make the pass, Chris (Duhon) probably gets a layup. It's a play that leads you to think you've already won. It's just one of the more horrible plays of the year.”

Duhon's leadership isn't terribly better, considering his penchant for being beaten on defense, launching NBA-length three-pointers — hey, Chris, master the 20-footer before trying from 24 — and throwing laser passes in traffic to Sanders.

Those reasons, not to mention the inconsistent play of his freshmen and even sophomore Daniel Ewing, are why Duke might not make the final of the ACC Tournament, and then might not get to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

It could happen, people, and Coach K seems to know it. And then it could get worse.

Ewing Leads Postseason Watch

To avoid this topic now would be very mainstream, so look to the mainstream media to avoid it. The Sports Journal handles all issues, even the touchiest ones — especially the touchiest ones? — so here goes our take on Duke's offseason:

Someone probably will transfer out. Previously, the Journal reported solid confirmation that the Ewing camp had contact with Texas about a possible transfer. With the Longhorns, he would be back in his home state and reunited with former high school teammate T.J. Ford, with whom he talks several times a week.

Two years ago Ewing and Ford were equals, and some analysts even rated Ewing ahead of Ford. Now Ford is the national player of the year, and Ewing is the sixth man who has lost his job to freshman J.J. Redick. Jones' graduation will open a starting spot on the wing, but anyone who thinks incoming Luol Deng won't get starting minutes hasn't been reading enough from recruiting guru Brick Oettinger, who feels Deng is far and away the No. 2 high school recruit in the country behind LeBron James.

Will Ewing transfer? Stay tuned.

Also keep an eye on freshman point guard Sean Dockery. As predicted in this space before the season, his minutes have been low because of his poor outside shot and the glut of guards, and that won't be helped much in the future. Deng will gobble up minutes on the wing — remember, the Devils don't think in terms of positions much — next season, and when Dockery is a junior Duhon will be gone but the hot recruit will be California guard DeMarcus Nelson, who could start right away.

If Dockery reads the writing on the wall in a pessimistic fashion, might he see himself pegged as a career backup at Duke? Stay tuned.

Finally, keep an eye on Michael Thompson. He's been the forgotten McDonald's All-American, having played just 13 games and averaged 3.5 minutes. The 6-10 Thompson wasn't allowed to dress out for the Florida State game, and while Krzyzewski wouldn't elaborate, he did indicate it was a disciplinary suspension. Sanders is a senior starter, but his departure will open playing time for fourth-year junior Nick Horvath, freshman Shavlik Randolph and incoming 6-9 forward Kris Humphries, a player with more skills than Thompson.

Will Thompson transfer? Stay tuned.