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Is Mike Krzyzewski becoming Dean Smith?

I offer this disclaimer as the following is both a bit tongue and cheek and part honest opinion; but if you are the type that gets livid over criticism of Mike Krzyzewski or the mere thought of comparing him with Dean Smith, and you have a diagnosed heart condition you may not want to read any further.

Pardon the Bleacher Report headline but this is a thought that popped in my mind  as I watched team USA barely scrape by with a win over a very game and talented Lithuania team Saturday.

Is it me or is Mike Krzyzewski starting to seem an awful lot like his former nemesis and eventual friend Dean Smith?

While watching Team USA put out what looked like an uninspired effort against Lithuania I was keeping track of the Twitterverse and one theme kept coming up; Lithuania’s Martynas Pocius appeared unstoppable at times.  Pocius as most any Duke fan should remember, played for Duke for three seasons before passing on his last year of eligibility to go play professionally in his home country.

Pocius was that player that everyone talked about who seemed to have potential to contribute and break out but was never able to. Granted his career was plagued by injuries, bust watching him use and abuse the collection of NBA All-Stars also known as Team USA with his former college coach at the helm had me thinking two things.

Where was this at Duke and is Marty Pocius Duke’s version of Michael Jordan?  I’ll give you a minute to process that.

If you are still reading I will go ahead and explain I do not mean to say that Pocius is Michael Jordan; he isn’t even in the same category, but when Jordan was at North Carolina it was often said that the only man that could slow him down or prevent him from scoring was his own coach Dean Smith.

Pocius scored only 14 points, but at times he was making the “superior” Americans just look bad. He and his teammates were out hustling, and just out playing the best players in the world.

The nervous jokes were pouring in on Twitter and it was those that had me think about Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith. Was it Krzyzewski who held back Pocius in college like Smith was said to have done with Jordan? Granted this was a joke but was there some truth in it?

Lets forget for a second the fact that Pocius was often injured and typically started the game with at least three fouls whether he played or not. If he could play like he did Saturday against Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant surely he could have been All-ACC and perhaps All-American had Krzyzewski not hampered his development.

If you look at a couple of Duke’s recent graduates Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee, they had decent college careers but were never the No. 1 options for the Blue Devils. Thomas has played more games in the NBA than any player from the 2010 National Title game and Plumlee has been opening eyes since predraft camps that helped him become a first round draft pick of the Indiana Pacers. A team who in the wake of drafting Plumlee sent former Tar Heel great Tyler Hansbrough packing.

So clearly the NBA is seeing something that Krzyzewski didn’t in those two players and Lithuania has found something in Pocius that wasn’t seen at Duke.

It has often been said that Krzyzewski just doesn’t develop NBA talent at Duke, but there were more Duke players on NBA rosters than UNC players last season. Perhaps they just have to get into the league first before they realize their potential and much like Dean Smith, Krzyzewski just holds his player’s games back for the sake of his system.

Pocius isn’t an NBA player but he has become a very solid player in Lithuania and for Real Madrid in the European League. Smith was famous for playing his system and limiting the output of some of his best players and it appears Krzyzewski is just following suit.

Before you send me all kinds of nasty responses, this was meant to be tongue and cheek. Any offense or anger taken from this is entirely the fault of you the reader and neither myself or Duke Report are responsible for your poor sense of humor.

2 comments

  1.  
    Nice article, Mike. You raise some valid points. I think there's no question K is going to run his system no matter – often at the expense of individual players getting stats they might rack up at other schools. The examples you bring up are interesting. Pocius, Thomas and MP1 could all play.
    Pocius in particular faced stiff competition throughout his career at his positions. He was never strong reliable enough with the ball to play point guard and a little small to play the three. That means he was mostly battling for playing time with Redick, Nelson, Henderson, Scheyer, E. Williams and Smith. Frankly those guys were better than him. It was a tough situation.
    There are similiarites between K and Dean – probably more than Duke or UNC fans would like to admit. One noticeable difference is that K seems to be more open to change along with youth culture. K will allow CERTAIN players the ultimate freedom – regardless of class – if they are truly elite players. Kyrie and Austin were each basically handed the ball and told to run with it. He allows his guys to be active on social media channels. He allowed the Zoubeard. He seems to have become more flexible in the past five years. Quite frankly I believe this was necessary and key to Duke sustaining its place among the elite.
     

  2. Definitely a good, thought provoking question of two of the greatest coaches ever.  It's very difficult to 2nd guess either Hall of Famer.  I'm not as familiar with Coach Smith, as I am with Coack K.  But if I were to guess, I think both coaches made/make it a priority to take a more holistic approach to coaching than most.  Basketball coaching being only a part of their training and likely not the most important part.  Think Coach K's American Express Commercial. If you don't take this aspect of coaching into consideration then it could appear that they could have made better decisions in player development.  Coach K has a definitely system, but will work with his players to adapt to his system and at the same time adapt his system to his players.  So absolutely these coaches and many other coaches restrain players for the sake of the team. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Plus, players will natural play differently in different situations.  Some will excel while others will fall back.  I'm just glad Pocius, Thomas and MP1 have reached the next level, knowing Coach K has prepared them for life challenges outside of basketball.