Like many of you, I didn’t watch last night’s National Championship. No need to rub salt into that wound, thank you; however, try as I might, I couldn’t escape some of the headlines this morning as they rolled through my Twitter feed. “Coach K wins another one!,” “All Hail Coach K!,” and quite possibly the cruelest, “Won and Done.” That’s supposed to be our thing, man.
From the major national writers, the narrative today is how Mike Krzyzewski has “adapted” to the one-and-done rule. Don’t get me wrong, Coach K is a brilliant coach, arguably the greatest in college basketball history. For years, he has been the pinnacle of “good” in the game to those that cover it, while John Calipari has been “bad.” For years, Calipari has been crushed for winning with freshmen, but suddenly, when Coach K does it, it’s brave and bold? The question I keep coming back to today is why is Duke’s title being title being celebrated more than Calipari’s in 2012? Don’t worry, I know the answer, but it still irritates me, a sore spot on skin that’s already sensitive right now.
You won’t be surprised, but here are a few examples of the national media’s hypocrisy, from the incoming president and vice-president of the USBWA:
“A guy whose program was the province of four-year players in the early ’90s has now beaten Kentucky’s John Calipari at his own game — the one-and-done game. The first titles were won with Christian Laettner as a junior and senior, which never would have happened had he come along later. This one was won with four freshmen in key roles, at least a couple of which are likely to be gone to the NBA this summer.”
— Pat Forde, “Mike Krzyzewski adapts, turns one-and-done into Duke’s fifth title”
What Forde fails to mention is that Calipari won the title in 2012 with four freshmen–six if you count walk-ons–three of which started and went pro after one season. Anthony Davis was the superstar, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the glue, and Marquis Teague the point guard. Kyle Wiltjer also contributed 5 points and 11.6 minutes a game in his role as the team’s seventh man. Not essential, but not unimportant. While Duke’s four freshmen were definitely the core of their team, only three started the National Championship game, just like Anthony Davis, MKG, and Marquis Teague in the 2012 National Championship game.
Also, no, Coach K did not “beat Calipari at his own game.” To my recollection, Duke and Kentucky did not play this season, nor were they on the same side of the bracket. Yes, Duke won the national championship this year and Kentucky did not, but if you’re talking about winning titles with one-and-dones, Calipari did that first in 2012. With one-and-done players as the core of most of his teams, Calipari has been to four Final Fours in the last five years to Coach K’s one. If being runner-up means anything (it doesn’t, really), Cal did that with eight freshmen, five of which started. But I guess Forde was too busy buying the bar a round of drinks when Cal lost to think about that.
“Back in October, he explained his philosophy, saying that he intentionally didn’t cast a wide net when he went shopping for special freshmen, preferring instead to focus his time on just a few players he truly wanted.”
— Dana O’Neil, “Duke, Coach K figured out how to rule a new world”
And then we have Coach K’s new “philosophy” of only recruiting the players he wants. That’s crazy, isn’t it?! What groundbreaking stuff. Except Calipari’s been doing it for years. The only thing unique about Coach K’s method are his connections with Team USA, an enviable advantage that gets him “in” with the most elite players. Fortunately, to this point, Calipari still gets his pick of the litter, although it will be interesting to see whether or not this title gives Coach K another bump. Something tells me UK will survive.
Here’s another part of the same article that burned me:
“They’re genuine,” Krzyzewski told ESPN.com as he walked off the court for the final time this season, stopping to fist-bump security guards and wave to the crowd. “When you have believers, you’re happy all the time. My wife would tell you that. When you can be creative instead of trying to figure out attitudes, it’s so much easier. I never had to figure it out. When you get kids like I have, it’s so easy.”
Wait, freshmen who go to the pros after one year can actually be good kids, too?! NO WAY. After watching six years of quality kids pass through this program, I never would have known. I’m so glad Coach K and Dana O’Neil are here to tell me that.
The only good thing that can come of Duke’s national championship? Maybe the national media will stop treating one-and-done like an evil enterprise. Except when it’s Kentucky, of course. That would be totally inconvenient. The true test will come the next few months, as players–including freshmen from Kentucky AND Duke–declare for the draft. Let’s see how the media treats them then. Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns should receive the same congratulatory treatment–two kids with extraordinary talent who are blessed enough to achieve their dream sooner than most. Coach K and John Calipari will surely be there to see their players off on their biggest night. See who the spotlight lingers on more.
Congrats to Duke and Coach K for their win, but pardon me if I’m not patting him on the back for “adapting” to the times. They call it adapting because you have no choice. Because the conditions have changed. If anything, Coach K is following another man’s blueprint, walking on a well-manicured path. The one-and-done rule is responsible for the shift in college basketball, and John Calipari was the one who blazed the trail.