Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One of the greatest championship games ever played; ‘The Captain’ proved me wrong this year

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.


Anonymous said...

"And he’s a good man."

Sorry, John, but a good man doesn't blame the opposing coach for the immature and indefensible actions of one of his own players which left said opposing coach's player with a bloodied and broken nose.

Krzyzewski may win more titles and more games and have more Final Fours and whatever... but he's not even close to being "a leader who happens to coach basketball" on the same level of Dean Smith.

Mr. X said...

"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."

The frustrating thing is that Duke is never the one getting it's heart broken and Laettner gets to walk around with that S***-Eating grin on his smug mug.

Anonymous said...


Being as close to Duke as you are, I doubt you'll appreciate--or possibly try to understand--but every accomplishment of the Blue Devil program is sullied by the Athletics Major, Sociology, which guarantees that DU's "special admits" never have to share a classroom with a real Duke student. Even the rare hoops recruit with a 1200 SAT would get crushed in a real Duke classroom where all his classmates have 1500-plus SAT scores (like putting an average 5-9 guy on the floor with Kyle Singler). It's the scandal that you, Jay, Dickie V and the legion of Coach K groupies never acknowledge. And it is what makes Duke the dirtiest program in college basketball.

Gordon said...

Other than having a friend who was captain of the Duke golf team back in the eighties I have no connection to the School I've never understood the "kill Duke" sentiment. Never has there ever been a hint of NCAA violations and they have a high graduation rate. Coach K and the basketball program deserves the success they have because they work for it. Further, I can not recall any former Duke player ever getting into trouble after graduation.

As for Coach K coaching the Nets. Get Serious! If he didn't want to coach a good team in the Lakers why would he go to one of the worst teams in history? At this stage of his career the last thing he needs or I suspect is money. And having sat behind Mrs. Coach K at a sweet 16 game In St. Petersburg I'm sure she would kill him. Her vocabulary during the Duke game was ,,,, shall we say "Complete".

My only problem with Duke was there PC based quick trigger and rush to judgement during the Lacrosse situation which was proven to be a witch hunt. Certainly the team was out of control but they were not criminals. It was beyond "boys will be boys" but far short of rape. Yet Duke hung the kids out to dry and fired the coach. Shameful!

Why kill tiger for the Par 3 contest? He Never plays in it. I'm sure when his kids get old enough to caddy for him he will. The Par 3 is for older players and legends like Jack, Arnold and Player.

I thought Billy Paynes comments were a cheap shot. Certainly accurate and deserved but the timing was horrible. I suspect many of Augustas members have or have had something on the side. The national average is 50 - 60% of men have had affairs and Augusta Nation is at least that high given the egos and the opportunity the members have.

Anonymous said...

John, you didn't bring this up, but I was thinking . . .

How many more years does Coach K probably have left? And is it possible that the perfect replacement for him was on the opposite bench Mon. night? Wouldn't Brad Stevens be a great replacement for him when he is ready to retire?

Tom M. said...


I am so glad to see you write the following:

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

The Olympics was the right thing for Mike to do and it improved USA basketball and Duke basketball. The Duke coaching staff improved their coaching skills working with the Olympic team. I am a huge fan of yours. I have read every book that you have written and have nothing but accolades for your work. I look forward to your new book being released along with the Bruce Edwards documentary. John, I know you are a very talented person. I am pleased to see that you have written today that you were wrong about Coach K. I was at the NCAA championship game and Mike and his staff did a fantastic job of coaching that team. The 2010 National Championship for Duke will be remembered forever as one of Mike's best work.



Bill-DC said...

I think Coach K is the only coach to win national titles in three different decades 1991, 1992, 2001 & 2010. I'm not a Duke fan but his record is incredible.

John L said...

To Anonymous who said, "Even the rare hoops recruit with a 1200 SAT would get crushed in a real Duke classroom where all his classmates have 1500-plus SAT scores (like putting an average 5-9 guy on the floor with Kyle Singler).": SAT scores now have three parts, not two; since this change was implemented in March 2005, every current Duke player probably took this version of the test. Assuming you were referring to the pre-2005 scoring system, you're still a bit high on your estimate; even today, the average Duke SAT score is 2170 (723 per section), which in the old system is about 1440 - short of your assumption that all non-basketball player Duke students have "1500-plus SAT scores". Duke very likely has reduced SAT score admissions standards for star basketball players; they also likely do the same for artists, musicians, etc. The admissions committee is interested in a well-rounded student body, just as they are at every other school in America. If all they cared about were SAT scores, we could just do away with the admissions process altogether. Am I so naive to believe every Duke ballplayer is as smart as the average Duke student, or that the money generated by the basketball program doesn't have some bearing on whether players are admitted? No. But to say that there is a grand conspiracy centered on Sociology majors, perpetuated by Coach K, is beyond naive.

Anonymous said...

Boy do I hate it when people tell other people what they should do with their time and money-Woods in Par 3- He hasn't played in it for years, yet he should play in it this year,of all years? And auction off the caddy? Really? That's a good idea this year? I love your books but will you ever blog about something other than the NCAA,Tiger and guys you don't like, "being bad guys"?

Anonymous said...

John L, you and I may understand the admittance game more than the average fan--and, yes, I was using shorthand. Whether it is the two-part or three-part SAT, basically an IQ test, the test and grades still constitute the basis for admitting the vast majority of DU freshmen. Both the average & median are brought down by the 300-or-so athletes. Your kid or my kid had better have 1500/2200 scores if they apply to Duke or their app is tossed. Point is, unlike a Texas or Illinois, where tens of thousands of somewhat above average students populate hundreds of courses, Duke has nowhere to hide. So 20-25 years ago, they identified a major where they could stash athletes, bestow good grades, and bless them with a Duke degree--and put Blue Chip athletes on the Cameron court. Virtually all students enrolled in the major are athletes. (Read that last sentence again, and think about it). Athletes only. It allows them to easily "graduate" 90 percent--that is, process them through the system--and make the NCAA happy. It's a sham. It's a "parallel school." These kids are not true representatives of what has become one of the most selective and academically elite schools in America. But if that is the basis for all the success that comes out of the program, it stands as the worst example of the worst abuse of college athletics. Conspiracy isn't the word I'd use. Scandal fits better.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Visual Arts, History, and African-American Studies are Duke's gut majors now.

Warren S. said...

Anonymous 2 was at least smart enough to realize that Anonymous 1's argument was a bit weak given that not one of Duke's players is actually a Sociology major. I guess Anonymous 2 simply did a check of the roster and has now become the official expert on what is and what is not a legit Duke major. Players in a major college basketball program not taking the absolute toughest major on the school's campus does not exactly rise to the level of scandal, let alone breaking news. Get a life. I'll take this over Maryland's 8 percent graduation rate any day. I suppose Terp players aren't graduating because they are all majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Yeah, right.

For the record, here are the majors for all current players who have declared a major:

Jordan Davidson,
Graduated from Duke with a Psychology degree in May of 2009 ... currently enrolled in the master of management studies program in the Fuqua School of Business

Steve Johnson
Economics Major

Casey Peters
A double major in economics & environmental sciences and policy

Jon Scheyer
A history major

Kyle Singler
A visual arts major

Nolan Smith
An African and African-American studies major

Lance Smith
A visual arts major

Brian Zoubek
A history major
Two-time Academic All-ACC team selection

C. Teague said...

Hey anonymous haters, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Duke '86 (History major, non-athlete)

Steve Tyler said...

As graduate of Maryland and UNC law, I despise Duke as much as a lot of folks around these parts, but Anonymous' criticism is nothing short of laughable. I hate Duke because they are our rivals, because they win, because of incessant media fawning (looking at you, Dookie V), and because Christian Laettner and Wojo are insufferable human beings. But to imply that K runs anything but a clean ship is simply irrational sour grapes. As much as I hate to admit it, the dude is a stand-up guy, amazing coach, and four-time National Championship coach.

Anonymous said...

The comment from Anonymous at 4/8/2010 at 8:39 pm is reprehensible and has no place on this, or any other, public forum. Please delete.

Anonymous said...

The disconnect between college athletics and academics is dramatic, and the hypocrisy displayed by institutions like Duke, and to a slightly lesser extent Stanford and Northwestern (only because they aren't quite as good in athletics as Duke) is sickening. It's all about money, and "buying" PR for their "brand" at a deep, deep discount. The only way to solve the moral dilemma is for the NCAA to prohibit "special admits" for all member schools, and thus return college sports to contests between students truly represetative of each university. I'd love to hear what Feinstein has to say about this, but I presume he never actually reads these comments. My hunch is that he is so invested in the current money-dripping sleazy system, as are so many university executives, that he would defend it to the death. Morals, schmorals. It's a great living!

kkwst2 said...

The only way to solve the moral dilemma is for the NCAA to prohibit "special admits" for all member schools, and thus return college sports to contests between students truly represetative [sic] of each university.

So you want community colleges to have the best basketball teams?

John Schaeffer said...


Admitting you were wrong about Coack K's decision to coach the Olympic team is a great 1st step, its totally obvious to everyone that you were wrong but for a guy with an ego like yours, it is still surprising, so good for you.

A much bigger deal would be for you to admit that you were wrongheaded and made poorly thought out comments about the Duke Lacrosse scandal and the team, now that would actually mean something.

DJ said...

"Anonymous" is not the proper moniker. "Unabashed Duke Hater" is more like it. Anonymous is at best misinformed and at worst an unrepenitent hater of all things Duke Blue. I have 2 sons that are Dukies so I carry some baggage as it relates to being a Duke lean. Before my kids went to Duke I was lukewarm about the Blue Devils. I didn't think they were anything special other than a good university with a good coach and team. Having spent some considerable time in Durham the last several years I can tell you that the entire Duke experience is the real deal. Sure, there's a number of jerks there-as is true of any college be it a Big Ten school or an SEC school. But I do know that ball players sit in classes of 10-12 next to kids with perfect SAT's and are there every class unless on the road. This is from personal experience, not some anecdotal footnote picked up third hand. For thoise who have the perspective of Anonymous, take it like a man and accept the fact that Duke is back near the top of their game, K is a top coach, and the university is a top ten institution. As they say,Forever Duke!!

Matt said...

I guess I missed the memo that only athletes can major in Sociology at Duke, since this non-athlete graduated with that degree a few years ago.

Ted said...

This criticism of sociology (or art, history, af-am studies...whatever) as an illegitimate major is offensive and ridiculous. What are the majors that would satisfy you as serious or worthy? Must all athletes major in a science? Don't forget that all students pass through general education requirements, and have to take courses outside of their majors as well, athletes included. And I have no problem with the adjusted admission standards for these guys, because they're not boxing anyone else out. More importantly, it's their commitment to graduating (and their terrific success in doing so) that I care about. If they weren't getting out, that would be scandalous.

You're stuck on the supposedly scandalous 60 Minutes report from years ago where that professor blew our minds with the (gasp) shocking news that the basketball players were gravitating toward certain perceived "easier" majors. Some majors are all but impossible for traveling athletes to manage because of, say, labs, prevalence of exams vs. papers, etc. Lots of excellent students choose these majors. They're pursuing legitimate studies (you have a lot of work to do if you want to argue that sociology or history should be eradicated from college study). Get over it. If you want scandal, let's focus instead on the students cruising through ALL colleges, including Duke, focused on kegs and blunts, squandering opportunity and barebacking privilege and getting a degree that they bought and didn't earn. I am FAR prouder to see Chris Carrawell or JJ Redick with a Duke degree than any of the countless privileged non-athlete rabble for whom it was destined at their (our) birth.

I loved Duke, and I worked hard for my degree. But I didn't work as hard as these guys do, regardless of major, and I didn't have nearly the time commitments they had and the pressures to focus their attention elsewhere. I'm very proud to see these guys bring the championship home again. If you want to find scandal or compromise or conspiracy, seek it elsewhere, and then seek medical attention.

sudhanshu said...

To the last Anonymous (apr 9th, 1252 hrs) before me,
You clearly, are one of the opinion that academics is the only way to live your life. Obviously, getting an academic scholarship, is acceptable to you, while a sports scholarship to you, is a "special admit", which is given only to increase the PR of the school. Heh. Laughable.

Clearly, Coach K is the best teacher. Not in Physics or Chemistry though. These students choose Duke to learn from him, at what they do best. Clearly, physics > basketball for you. Open your eyes. If everyone lived by your ideals, there wouldn't be many Van Goghs around.

Next you say, "prohibit "special admits" for all member schools, and thus return college sports to contests between students truly representative of each university".

Again, you display signs of immaturity, by mentioning that Academics is the primary criteria for judging a students potential.

Yes, these "special admits" may not be your above average Duke students, but they certainly are above average in their particular chosen field. They may not perform the best in class, but they do good enough to graduate.

Duke has one of the best athletic programs not because it has the most money. Infact, its the other way around. They have the best teachers, and hence the best students land up there. Just like why the smartest kids go to Stanford or MIT. The money has come over time, and so has the PR. Deal with it.

Eternally Maternal said...

DukeMom: My sons went to Duke and I had the pleasure years ago of taking them to dinner with some girls from their dorm who included a varsity golfer on the girls' national championship team. She said sometimes it was hard to put up with the assumption that she wasn't bright and got in because she was good at golf. One of the young men at the table stopped her and said something I still think applies to any college athlete or student: He said that she wasn't admitted to Duke because she could play golf. She was admitted to Duke because she excelled at golf. She had academic credentials which qualified her to succeed at Duke, but that Duke was about excellence -- excellent students or excellent athletes or excellent artists or whatever. Excellence. She's now on the LPGA and he was in Indianapolis with my sons this past weekend -- they all have Duke degrees, they are all earning a living and paying their bills. They all contributed to the life at Duke University. Is there a better example of a way to educate your kids? And to the haters -- please tell me which schools have PE majors....and still don't graduate their athletes?

DukeMom75 said...

For anyone much less a Carolina fan to suggest that K's response to the Henderson "punch" (if that's what you think it was)of Hansbrough was reflective of the man and not just the moment is truly worthy of the term hater. What abour Roy Williams after Kansas lost saying he didn't give a .... about North Carolina? Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, K, Roy -- all are competitive men coaching in high stakes worlds. John Wooden was the pre-eminent coach but I don't think anyone believes UCLA would achieve at that level even with his coaching in today's recruting and one and done era. Adolph Rupp has 4 titles, but wasn't he the one who decided he might go ahead and add black players to his team?
Gerald Henderson went to high school at a co-ed prep school outside Philadelphia with Wayne Ellington, a team-mate of Tyler Hansbrough during that game. None of them ever suggested that it was anything but a hard foul == delivered in the heat of the moment. Flagrant fouls are part of the game which is why the refs have the right to call them. Dean Smith owned the ACC until Coach K came along. Coach K owned it for awhile, shared it with Gary Williams and now Roy has joined the stage. It's competition -- and for the fans to suggest that Coach K is unworthy of accolades because of a response to a verbal suggestion that Henderson was a thug is ridiculous.
Monday night's game was fabulous -- watch Coach K when he said he had a hard time realizing we were national champions. This was a game with no losers -- and as I sat in the Duke stands, I was a bit like Feinstein -- the Hayward shot looked so good that it took me a few moments after it missed to realize it meant that "we won." Had it gone in, it would have eclipsed the Laettner shot and I believe while it would have hurt to lose, the Duke fans would have cheered Butler in victory. I went to a Sixers/Bucks game last night and felt so bored -- no one plays defense and it's hard to look at many of these players as the best. Every moment of the Duke-Butler game was about wanting to win. And folks -- Mr. X is not right -- Duke is often the one who gets its heart broken. It just doesn't make anyone mad when it happens so you don't remember it....1978 against Kentucky, 1986 against "NEver Nervous Pervis", 1989 (Andrew Gaze??), 1990 humiliation to UNLV, 1994 in Charlotte -- watch that last shot again...1999 loss to UConn -- 2001 loss to don't go to 8 Finals like K does, win 4 and not have your heart broken.

Anonymous said...

Out of all the schools in the ACC, Duke had the most basketball players on the ACC Honor Roll, which requires a 3.0 gpa. Duke is the only school in the ACC that's ranked among the top 10 universities in the country and top 15 in the world. The only other school that's ranked among the top 25 in the country and top 100 in the world is UVa.

If you have "student"-athletes who attend a school that's not ranked and they can't even a muster a 3.0 gpa, what does that say about the "student"-athletes and the school?! Something to think about...

Duke Grad, BSE '70 said...

The summer after Eric Meek committed to Duke he was hit by a car while jogging, and it was thought that he would never play basketball again. Immediately after the accident, Coach K called him and told him he still had his scholarship whether or not he ever played a minute for Duke. Normal response? Alvin Ellerbe was an All-American linebacker for UCLA in the 1960's, when he blew-out a knee. UCLA dropped him. Coach K has always made me proud that I am a Duke graduate, and it has nothing to do with his win total.

Duke grad said...

As a Duke history major who went on to Yale Law School, this is the first I'm hearing that history is a "gut" major.

As someone who worked during college, I'm amazed at all of the big-time college athletes (certainly not just at Duke) who maintain their studies with the kind of schedules they lead -- practice every day, travel once or twice a week, high level of scrutiny, etc. No way a kid could keep up, in any major, at Duke unless they were highly capable students. Scandal? No, remarkable.

And as a businessperson, I think the managerial leadership Coach K showed this year, shaping a strong but not remarkable collection of athletes into a true team that achieved great things, is something any aspiring leader should consider studying.

Root for the underdogs? Sure. Butler was a fantastic story this year, and I don't begrudge anyone rooting for them. But thereby make Duke into villains? That part I don't get.

Great coach, good kids, in a program dedicated to excellence and integrity -- what exactly is there to hate, except Duke's success? Frankly, those who hate success are unlikely ever to achieve it.

55 said...

Fellow Dukies, you're not supposed to use facts when arguing with people like Anonymous above. You're supposed to just let him assert himself.

Anonymous said...

Matt Howard, not Brian....