During the 2008-09 college basketball season, few images were broadcast as frequently as that of Mike Krzyzewski standing amidst his Olympic team with numerous gold medals draped around his neck.
Any legitimate Duke fan feels an overwhelming sense of pride when looking at that image—it’s a testament to the abilities and character of Coach K. At the same time, fans have been feeling an overwhelming sense of relief with Coach K’s Olympic commitment completed.
While the past few years have seen the USA Olympic basketball program return to its former glory under Krzyzewski’s watch, the Duke program has been wavering a bit.
With just one trip to the Sweet 16 in the last three years, many fans have been more than ready for Krzyzewski’s attention to once again be solely focused on Duke. So when news emerged last week that Krzyzewski might be interested in another three-year coaching commitment with Team USA, it’s understandable why message boards and blog sites have erupted with less-than-favorable opinions on the prospect of Coach K keeping his “second job.”
But is Coach K’s Olympic commitment really a bad thing for Duke? Has his time with the NBA’s best talent hurt Duke recruiting, and would another three year stint with Team USA go hand-in-hand with another three years of less-than-stellar Duke seasons?
On one side of the coin, there is the seemingly sound thought that the positive publicity associated with Coach K leading Team USA back to its rightful place is a good thing for Duke basketball.
From now on, Krzyzewski will be associated with NBA stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade. It seems likely that such a thing would do wonders for Krzyzewski’s reputation among the high school superstars who idolize those players.
Last summer did see Duke land four recruits in the wake of Team USA’s gold medal run. Upcoming freshman Ryan Kelly committed to Duke in October, and 2010 recruits Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, and Josh Hairston all committed before the end of the summer. Duke also made significant strides with Harrison Barnes (the top prospect in the 2010 recruiting class) last summer as well. If he commits to Duke, few could argue that Krzyzewski’s involvement with Team USA’s gold medal run in Beijing hurt Duke’s recruiting, at least in the long run.
That being said, the three years prior to Beijing were, at best, bittersweet for Duke recruiting.
While Krzyzewski was juggling dual commitments with Duke and the Olympic team, the Blue Devils missed out on top recruits in three consecutive years.
Patrick Patterson (arguably Duke’s top recruit behind Kyle Singler) went to Kentucky in 2007. Greg Monroe chose Georgetown in 2008, and Kenny Boynton, Duke’s top recruit for the 2009 recruiting class, went with Florida.
The truth is that Duke recruits do not always turn into Duke commits (that’s not a new trend) and there are several factors to consider when looking at a prospect who went elsewhere. Pinpointing a single reason for three separate recruits to choose another school is unlikely.
Still, missing out on three consecutive key recruits is a big issue when your recruiting strategy is to go after fewer players than many other schools, which is exactly what Krzyzewski’s m.0. has been in recent years.
Couple that with the fact that Duke wasn’t even able to get Monroe or Boynton, who were both high priority recruits for most of Krzyzewski’s Olympic commitment, to campus for official visits and you’re left with no other option than to wonder if the Olympic coaching gig (and even the potential recruiting benefits that come along with it) has come at too high a price for the Duke program.
The future for Duke is certainly strong. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly are excellent additions for the Blue Devils and the 2010 recruiting class has the potential to be monumental, especially when combined with the solid upperclassmen Duke will have in Singler (if he stays), Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Kelly, and the Plumlee brothers.
Nevertheless, the last three seasons, while great for USA basketball, haven’t exactly built momentum for Duke’s reputation as the elite program in college basketball. Landing either Patterson or Monroe (or both for that matter) would have made Duke a legitimate Final Four contender in recent seasons and done much to keep the Blue Devils at least even with rival North Carolina.
While Krzyzewski’s Olympic commitment isn’t the sole factor for Duke’s recruiting struggles of late (there probably isn’t a single factor at all), it’s unlikely that missing high priority targets in each year of his Team USA coaching tenure is simply a coincidence.
So while Duke fans are proud to have Coach K represent their country, it’s more than understandable why the prospect of seeing his Olympic commitment continue doesn’t have have them brimming with excitement.
But does another three years of Olympic coaching necessarily mean further recruiting issues for the Blue Devils?
Not if Krzyzewski is willing to adjust his recruiting strategy in light of not being able to give recruits as much personal attention in the summer as other top coaches.
Right now, Duke has three commits for the 2010 recruiting class in Dawkins, Hairston, and Thornton. Liberty transfer Seth Curry will also be available in 2010.
Duke has been actively recruiting three other players for that class for some time now in Barnes, Kyrie Irving, and Brandon Knight. But recently, Duke has started to show interest in a few other high profile players.
Although they haven’t received offers yet, point guard prospect Ray McCallum is now being looked at by the Blue Devils along with Dominique Ferguson, a five-star prospect. That means Duke is actively recruiting five 2010 players while already having four incoming 2010 players. Duke obviously doesn’t have enough scholarships to add nine players to it’s 2010 class, which means Krzyzewski might be adjusting his recruiting strategy.
In recent years, fans have criticized Duke for not having backup plans for key recruits, but it looks like that trend may be coming to a close if the 2010 recruiting class is any indication.
If Barnes commits to Kansas (Duke and Kansas are widely believed to be secure as his top two schools), Ferguson would be a stellar backup plan (imagining both players coming to Duke seems too good to be true) as both are highly athletic, versatile wing players. With Duke actively pursuing the top three point guards in that class as well, it seems like Krzyzewski is looking to have his bases covered.
If Coach K is going to continue coaching the Olympic team, going after more recruits each season will be a crucial strategy to make up for his inability to spend as much face time with each recruit in the offseason.
No matter what decision he makes, Coach K is Coach K.
He has successfully guided the Duke program to pinnacle heights for decades, and fans should be proud to see him do the same with the Olympic team.
If he can find a way to coach the Olympic team and adjust his recruiting strategies to compensate for his time away, we should all welcome the opportunity he has been given to represent USA basketball for another three years.