Walking into Augusta National this morning a number of people asked me what I thought about the national championship game on Monday. My answer was simple: “It was one of the greatest championship games ever played and if Gordon Hayward’s shot had gone in, it would have been THE greatest game and THE greatest moment in the history of college basketball.”
Yup, it was that good.
I’ve heard a few people say the game was exciting but not that well played—they say that looking at the shooting percentages. They also say that because they don’t understand basketball. Go back and look at the tape. I’m not sure there more than a half-dozen shots in the entire game that were uncontested. Every single possession was an absolute war. Throwing a simple perimeter pass was difficult. Both teams had help waiting for anyone who tried to drive the ball to the goal. There were almost no transition baskets because the teams changed ends of the court so quickly.
It is almost 36 hours since Hayward’s 45-foot shot hit the backboard and the rim and rolled off and I can still see it in the air and I can still remember thinking, ‘that has a chance.’
If it had gone in I would have been thrilled to have been there for the greatest moment in college basketball history. When it missed I was delighted for Mike Krzyzewski and all the people I know at Duke.
Let’s deal with Krzyzewski for a moment. Let’s start with this: He proved me wrong this season. I thought he made a mistake taking the Olympic job for a second time, especially at a time when Roy Williams had just won his second national championship in five years.
I forgot a lesson I learned—or thought I’d learned a long time ago—never underestimate The Captain. That’s the nickname my pal Keith Drum and put on him when he first came to Duke. Since Bob Knight liked to call himself ‘The General,’ we started calling Krzyzewski ‘The Captain,’ since that was his rank in the Army—unlike Knight who was actually a private.
Drum, who has been an NBA scout for almost 20 years, was the sports editor of The Durham Morning Herald in those days and was probably the only member of the local media who didn’t jump off the Krzyzewski bandwagon—not that there was one—when Mike went 38-47 his first three years at Duke. He was vocal enough in his belief that Krzyzewski was going to be a successful coach that Dean Smith noticed.
In 1984, after Krzyzewski’s first good team had stunned North Carolina (with Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty among others) in the ACC semifinals, Drum and I walked down the steps in The Greensboro Coliseum into the hallway where the locker rooms were. Dean was standing outside his locker room and when he spotted us, he walked across the hall, making a beeline for Keith.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Your team played very well.”
It was a funny line since Drummer went to North Carolina. Dean was making a point about his support of Krzyzewski.
Turns out Drum had it right. Turns out I had it wrong this season. Here are the numbers: Four national championships, behind only John Wooden (10) and tied with Adolph Rupp. Eleven Final Fours—one behind Wooden and tied with Dean. Twelve ACC championships—one behind Dean. And, last but not least, 868 victories—11 behind Dean and 34 behind Knight.
Of course there are people out there who will say about 800 of those wins came because Duke gets all the calls. There are also people—just about all of whom have never met Krzyzewski or talked to him—who think he’s a bad guy, who make up things about him (like the columnist in Miami who claimed last week he ‘faked,’ his back injury in 1995) and who simply can’t stand to see him win.
Sorry folks, the guy is just good at what he does. And he’s a good man. The work he does very quietly for charities, for people who are sick, for friends—is endless. He just doesn’t make a big deal of it. For that matter, neither did Dean, who has always been that way too. That’s why I wrote a column Saturday saying they are a lot more alike than either would probably care to admit. If you want to say I’m saying these things because I went to Duke—fine. I’m saying these things because I’ve known the guy since 1977 and I know that they’re true.
He did a great job coaching this team, the key moment coming when he made Brian Zoubek a starter. Until then, this was another nice Duke team that probably would have lost in the Sweet 16. Zoubek changed everything. He gave the team an inside presence it hadn’t had since Shelden Williams graduated. He made Lance Thomas more effective because he knew he had help behind him and could be aggressive on defense. He made the Plumlee brothers better because they could play limited minutes and just buzz around when they were in the game.
As Bob Ryan said on Saturday night after Duke had dismantled West Virginia, “they have three piano players and three piano movers and they all know their roles.”
And, as Krzyzewski said, they became a very good team that did a great thing even though they didn’t have anywhere close to the pure talent many of his previous teams have had. And if Kyle Singler comes back next year—probably 50-50—they’re going to have a chance to do it again.
So will Butler if Hayward comes back. If there’s anyone left who didn’t think this was a wonderful team, they should find another sport. The only team I saw all year that played half court defense at Duke’s level was Butler. Hayward is superb; so is Shelvin Mack and the players around them all knew their roles. Matt Howard played as smart and as tough a game on Monday as I’ve ever seen.
And Brad Stevens proved he can coach with anyone. He beat Jim Boeheim, beat Frank Martin, beat Tom Izzo and missed beating Krzyzewski by two inches. He matched Krzyzewski move-for-move most the entire night. Every time out he called worked. So did his rotation, especially the way he went defense-offense the last few minutes.
It would be nuts for him to leave Butler for any second tier job in a BCS conference. His next job should be one of the BIG ones: Krzyzewski isn’t going to coach forever; neither will Roy Williams or Ben Howland and you never know when someone at a big school might be tempted by the NBA. (Forget The Captain to the Nets. He’d never coach a game if he even thought about it because his wife Mickie would kill him first). That’s where Stevens belongs. Butler right now is a better job than any of those other jobs anyway.
The only sad thing about Monday Night, especially one like this one, is that someone loses and has to live with the ‘what-ifs,’ the rest of their lives. To be honest, the Butler kids deserve better than that because they gave us memories we’ll all keep with us for a long, long time.
You see, Monday Night in college basketball is about forever. And this one was one worth savoring for at least that long.
Quick note on the ‘new,’ Tiger Woods. He’s not playing in the par-3 tournament at Augusta today, which is by far the most fan friendly event of the week. The excuse from his camp is that he hasn’t done it for years and if he did and played poorly tomorrow someone would say (not me for the record) that it was because he’d played the par-3. He should have just played. He should have auctioned off caddying for him and given the money to a charity of the winner’s choice—NOT his own foundation.
But no, he’s not doing that. He IS, I’m told, signing a lot more autographs than in the past. Good for him. But he should have played in the par-3.