Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, and the Brave New World

Paul McGuillicuddyAnalyst IMarch 31, 2008

Quick—what do Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain have in common? Yeah, yeah, yeah basketball, I know. Guess I had that one coming. If you also said those three all played on teams that won an NBA championship, you would again be right. They are also all enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Beyond that none of them played basketball their freshmen year of college—that is they didn’t play on their individual school’s ‘varsity’ team.

Up until 1972 freshmen were not eligible to play varsity basketball. It was deemed that youngsters needed a year to acclimate to college life, and they played competitive basketball on a freshman team with a much less demanding schedule. Some of us might not want to admit to readily knowing this fact as it may give a clue to our advancing years.

Okay—what do Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, and Bill Willoughby have in common? Yeah—basketball again. You’re really funny. Actually these guys were the first group to skip college and declare eligibility for the NBA draft. Malone led a successful career; he too has a place in Springfield. Dawkins—or ‘Chocolate Thunder’ played parts of 14 seasons—including two years as a starter. Willoughby, on the other hand, became the example used to warn youngsters against such a rash decision.

After a five year career, a broken Willoughby ended up living back at home with his parents.

How about Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan? I know, I know—basketball (Is there a statute of limitations on this joke?). These hall-of–famers left school early to enter the NBA - Thomas and Johnson as sophomores and Jordan after his junior year.

And Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant? These guys were the second generation who made the jump from high school to the NBA? Obviously they have all fared better than Willoughby.

I’m not done yet—DaJuan Wagner, William Avery, and Khalid El-Amin? These guys left school early, but have fallen into the basketball abyss. All three now earn pay checks from teams overseas.

Anyone heard of Korleone Young, Ellis Richardson, and Leon Smith? They tried to make the jump from high school to the NBA. Judging by your lack of response - without much success.

Of course there’s Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and Michael Conley—the first class to sojourn on a college campus one year before becoming eligible for the NBA draft.

In just a few short decades we have gone from youngsters benefitting from the wisdom and counsel of college coaches, to an era where college coaches must market themselves and their institutions to attract prized recruits. Part of this marketing includes letting the individual display his talents whether it is for the common good or not. For some the game has become less about post entry passes and more about alley oops.

Many young athletes have abandoned the lessons to be learned from the structure provided by a college coach.

Amid this back drop of 21st century American hoops are hall-of-fame coaches, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski.

While coaches from all sports look for greener grass, Calhoun and Coach K have thrown down some roots.

Armed with a combined five national titles and twelve final four appearances Calhoun and Coach K forge ahead into this new frontier of American basketball.

Calhoun’s Huskies most recently climbed the NCAA summit in 2004, Kryzyzewski’s Blue Devils in 2001. Recently the two have found it difficult to survive the first weekend of tournament play.

From 1986 to 1994 seven of Krzyzewski’s Blue Devil squads made it to the final four—winning the title in ’91 and ’92. Many likened this run to John Wooden’s teams at UCLA that won ten titles in twelve years during the 60’s and 70’s. Analysts pointed to a larger tournament field and an increased level of competition for recruits as reason why no school could duplicate that of the Wooden’s Bruins.

Now Calhoun and Krzyzewski’s squads seem like nothing more than mid-major bulls eye fodder.

Earlier this season Calhoun suspended Jerome Dyson for nine games and Doug Wiggins two games for violating team rules. While other schools might penalize players by taking away starting privileges and sitting an athlete for a half, Calhoun sent home a message to his players: If you plan on playing at UConn you will appropriately represent this school.

Calhoun was quoted: ‘We feel that life doesn’t begin and end on the court. It’s how we show ourselves as a basketball program. Academics are very important here, and we’ve had some disappointments. Social behavior is very important here.”

The Husky coach might as well have sent himself into recruiting exile. All those recruits looking for a stepping stone into the NBA—they just crossed UConn from their list.

Maybe that’s how Calhoun wants it.

Same for Krzyzewski. Prior to 1999 early exits were something that happened at other schools—not at Duke. Then Elton Brand left—rightly so. The previously mentioned Avery hastily bolted. Corey Maggette left under a cloud of suspicion.
For the denizens of Cameron the exodus signaled the end of an era.

Since then others have left Duke early, and it appears that Coach K has tempered his recruiting efforts.

It looks like the Duke staff is willing to overlook recruits with supreme athletic gifts and hone in on kids looking to learn the game of basketball.

Is it possible that the Duke coach has decided to focus on kids more inclined to staying four years and becoming members of the Duke program than kids auditioning for the NBA?

The irony of this situation is that Calhoun has more players in the NBA than any other university. Duke is tied with UNC for second.

Let the other coaches run the rat-race of signing blue chip recruits who only need a stage for one year. Calhoun and Krzyzewski have more important things to worry about in this brave new world - like monitoring study hall, teaching the screen and roll, demonstrating a post entry pass, and showing kids the possibilities created by a college degree.

Before you go—what do Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, and Kevin Love have in common? Yeah you guessed it—the next class to spend less than a year on campus before moving on into the Brave New World.