Mike Krzyzewski isn’t going anywhere; neither is Duke’s one-and-done model

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

— Early in a postseason sit-down with the media Wednesday, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski initiated a guessing game.

“I think you’ll be shocked,” he started. “From this last five-year period, if I had to change one thing, one thing, none of you would guess what it was. You don’t have to put your hands up, but take a guess.”

Silence ensued for a few seconds.

“I would have redshirted Ryan Kelly.”

Kelly was a rarely used freshman reserve on Duke’s 2010 national championship team, averaging 6.5 minutes and 1.2 points. Developmentally, he turned out just fine – a second-round NBA draft pick last year, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Had Kelly redshirted the year he barely played, he would have been a fifth-year senior and could have filled the void that ultimately prevented this past Duke team, which lost to Mercer in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64, from reaching its potential.

“Yeah, we could play better defense, and we could do all this, but, fundamentally, the thing that we missed was on-the-court leadership, play after play,” Krzyzewski said. “And, to me that’s critical. And we were never able to develop that, and so, as a result, other things aren’t developed as well.”

During his hour-long session, during which he said he planned to be at Duke at least five more years, Krzyzewski was upbeat, open and reflective, readily admitting that there are things he needs to evaluate and change in order for Duke to annually compete for a national championship.

One thing that won’t change, though, is Duke’s pursuit of the best high school talent – he said one would have to be an “idiot” to tell the best high school players they weren’t wanted at Duke, even if they hope to stay only one year.

So, with that understood, it’s time to reconsider how things are done and taught at Duke, starting with leadership, one of Krzyzewski’s favorite topics of study and discussion.

“I do a lot of corporate speaking, for the last 25 years,” he said. “I usually do a really good job with motivation. Well, they’re older people. With the U.S. team, they’re men. I don’t know if everything I do now with my team hits them at the level that I think it hits them. And that’s something when I talk to my players, I’m going to ask them.

“We have a great opportunity to bring in a group of kids (next season) who are great players. And so, we have to keep trying to figure it out. Also, with the culture that they’re coming from – the culture, in these last five years, changed. Social media, there’s a lot more out there, but it’s all spread out. And how you get a team to be deep and feel things deeply during this time, I have to take a look.”

Will build around Okafor

Krzyzewski said he will continue to build around the best player, and next season that will be incoming center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1-ranked high school player nationally.

“So everybody, the guys coming from high school and the guys that are still here, to me, that’s the first guy they have to learn how to play with,” Krzyzewski said. “That should be fun.”

He also had high praise for incoming point guard Tyus Jones, another five-star recruit he sees as part of the solution to the leadership void, not another challenge. Krzyzewski called him a pretty good leader before stopping and saying Jones is an “outstanding leader.”

It will be up to Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook and the other players set to return to adjust to Okafor and Jones, and the sooner they do so, the better the team will be.

There was no announcement about the draft status of Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood, but Krzyzewski didn’t say anything to go against the idea that both will enter the NBA draft.

About that defense

One possible concrete change, though, might be the way Duke plays defense, despite the fact that the program was built on tenacious man-to-man defense. It was no secret that the Blue Devils struggled. The statistics were ugly.

Duke ranked 115th according to Ken Pomeroy and opponents shot 45.6 percent, the best against Duke in more than 20 years. The forced turnover rate of 12.1 per game was the worst of Krzyzewski’s 34-year tenure.

Krzyzewski said the day before Duke lost to Mercer that it’s hard to get young teams to play good defense – they aren’t in the habit of doing so, especially when they get tired. So if Duke is going to be young next year, then …

“Yeah, what we do defensively, absolutely, we have to take a look at that,” Krzyzewski said. “Not only that, but how we’re teaching the main defense that we play, which is man-to-man.

“If we’re going to have guys for a shorter period of time, how can we best have a training program and drills to make sure – you know, ‘I am tired, but I’m still in a stance, dammit. I am tired, but I’m still talking.’ And, so how we teach that, yeah, that’s on us. We can do a better job. We can do a better job.”

The next 5 years

Krzyzewski said he likes to evaluate his program in five-year intervals. From 2000 through 2004, he thought Duke had three legitimate chances to win the national championship, and capitalized on one. There weren’t as many chances in 2005-09, and there were three in the most recent five-year period: 2010 (when Duke won), 2011 (when Kyrie Irving was hurt) and 2013 (with Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Kelly).

Now it’s time to start planning for the next five-year period. Krzyzewski said he anticipates that, at some time, the NBA and the NBA players association will switch to the “20-and-2” model, raising the minimum draft age from 19 to 20 and making a player be two years removed from high school graduation before he’s draft eligible (thus making kids who go straight from high school to college stay at least two years).

More notably for Duke, Krzyzewski said he intends to coach the Blue Devils for the next five years, at least.

“I’m going to be here that time,” Krzyzewski, 67, said. “I’m excited to do that. There’s not like, ‘When is he going to retire?’ I’m looking forward to planning that out.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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