Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski might be the best sports reporter, period, right now. He is an outright savant when it comes to his beat, the NBA — a list of his notable scoops would easily fill a word document.
So, when such an esteemed and well-connected reporter writes a column that rips into Mike Krzyzewski and his USA Basketball empire, it commands attention.
Sorry, diehard Duke fans, this is no hack job, as some have tried to suggest out there on the Internet. It’s an inside look at how top NBA officials feel about USA Basketball, and it echoes concerns high-major college coaches have about an unfair recruiting advantage it gives Duke — concerns that I heard at the Nike Peach Jam this summer, too.
First, read the column in its entirety. No, really, read it. Below are some excerpts, but this isn’t intended to be a replacement for reading the original.
The title pretty accurately sums up the gist of the column: “NBA needs to pull stars from USA Basketball, which is showcasing only Duke's coach.”
“As much as ever, USA Basketball has been co-opted into a Krzyzewski leverage play for the Duke Blue Devils. If that doesn't rile Kentucky's John Calipari, wait until the Duke coach is credited for DeMarcus Cousins' maturity with the Sacramento Kings this season.
“The end's coming for USA Basketball's grip on the game in the States, but once change goes into effect come the 2018 World Cup, it won't matter much to Krzyzewski anymore. He still has two full summers of USA Basketball access left to him, and that'll make it a full decade of control. As one Duke alumnus would tell you: There is a USA Basketball storefront selling patriotism and duty with a backroom reality that peddles the Blue Devils and Nike swooshes.”
It took me awhile to realize this was a play on Danny Ferry’s now-infamous reference to fellow Duke alum Luol Deng.
Wojnarowski on the recruiting benefit to Duke and Coach K:
“People call Calipari the greatest self-promoting coach of his time, but Krzyzewski doesn't get nearly the credit due him. USA Basketball is a machine with its tentacles deep into every level of basketball, and Krzyzewski taps into every element.”
Wojnarowski then details how Krzyzewski “never violated an NCAA rule” when he talked to the 2013 under-19 national team, and how doing so gave him “unfiltered access to two of the best high school players in the nation,” Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor and Houston’s Justise Winslow.
“When Krzyzewski makes his triumphant return this week,” Wojnarowski writes, “two freshmen stars will be awaiting him on Duke's campus: Okafor and Winslow.”
This whole set-up hasn’t gone unnoticed by other major college coaches. One pointed out at the Peach Jam how UCLA coach Steve Alford had to go jump through hoops to watch his son, Bryce, at the U19 team training camp, but Krzyzewski had unlimited access to everyone, even though he wasn’t on the U19 coaching staff.
“Without the access of USA Basketball, there's a strong belief within the basketball community that Krzyzewski would've never landed Jabari Parker. Only, he had it, used it and signed him. He's on a tremendous run, and let's face it: Krzyzewski is so untouchable, he could keep Mason Plumlee on this World Cup roster without much of an uproar.”
“As long as Krzyzewski needs recruits at Duke, he needs USA Basketball. Why sit in the steamy summer-circuit AAU gyms trying to make eye contact with 16-year-olds, when you can use the media to write about all the close, personal relationships you've developed with LeBron and Kobe, 'Melo and Kevin Durant?”
There’s more in Wojnarowski’s column — the Paul George injury and ramifications are discussed in great detail. But it is, in its entirety, an unprecedented criticism of Krzyzewski, probably when he and his people were least expecting it. And when you consider the respected source, it’s worth listening.