When it comes to college basketball, this area can occasionally run short on long-term memory, so it might seem like eons ago but it was only five years ago that Mike Krzyzewski’s involvement with Team USA was generally perceived as bad for Duke’s recruiting.
In the fall of 2009, Duke had lost out on top recruits like Harrison Barnes and Greg Monroe, was five years removed from its last Final Four appearance and eight removed from its last national title. This alleged Duke decline could be traced back to Krzyzewski’s commitment, in 2005, to attempt a rebuilding of USA Basketball. Right? Duke, of course, won its fourth national title that spring.
That’s merely one reason why this week’s hubbub over Krzyzewski’s involvement with Team USA, provoked by a trenchant column by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, is amusing on several levels.
Wojnarowkski’s NBA sources – his intelligence on that league is impeccable – are clearly aggrieved that Team USA has become about Krzyzewski and Duke as opposed to the NBA, which contributes the actual players to the operation.
This neatly overlooks the reality that the NBA and its people mucked up Team USA for years in the post-Dream Team era, to the point where USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo – a member of the NBA inner circle himself – turned to Krzyzewski to turn things around. If international basketball is relevant in the United States at this particular moment, it isn’t because of the NBA.
By the same token, for all of the alleged recruiting advantage Krzyzewski’s USA Basketball involvement has given him, he’s had more success with Team USA than with Duke. The Blue Devils’ haven’t been to a Final Four since 2010, with that team laden with what could fairly be termed “classic Duke players” who were far from one-and-done: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and a couple Plumlees.
If anything, Krzyzewski fared better with that type of recruit than he has with the NBA-bound stars who were presumably impressed by his connections with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and the rest of the U.S. crew. He won two NCAA tournament games with Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker. That may change this season, with freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, but for the moment it’s hard to draw much of a connection between Krzyzewski’s involvement in Team USA and any success at Duke.
What the NBA has learned, and is now grumbling about, is that Krzyzewski is unavoidably the center of attention in anything he does.
That’s not a criticism by any means: It has worked very well for Duke, with four national titles and the worldwide exposure the success of the basketball program has brought to the university. It’s no coincidence that when Duke opened satellite campuses in China and Dubai, Krzyzewski and the basketball team weren’t far behind.
What’s true at Duke, where the university president once begged him to stay in public via a bullhorn, is also true with USA Basketball, where Colangelo once begged Krzyzewski to return in private via a pizza. Even Krzyzewski acknowledged as much Thursday.
“Anybody who’s been in the game as long as I have, me and Jim (Boeheim), we have a certain amount of notoriety,” Krzyzewski said. “What are we supposed to do, lose? I don’t get it.”
Duke basketball has for decades been inextricably intertwined with Krzyzewski himself, to the point where the D, U and E sometimes seem extraneous. So too, now, is Team USA – through 2016, at least, when the NBA people grumbling now will have their chance to take action, for better or for worse.