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FanTake: Will Duke Basketball Begin to Look More Like Kentucky?

Duke Freshmen
Photo: Mark Dolejs-USA Today Sports

This is a follow-up to an April 2015 Associated Press article regarding Duke basketball and the one-and-done phenomenon.

Once upon a time, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski led championship basketball teams with top veteran players who learned from him and from each other for four full years. Then, as the years passed, college hoops began to change, and even then Coach K held back for years.

Jay Bilas, an analyst who played on Krzyzewski’s first Final Four team in 1986, stated:

“What Coach K has done in my judgment, and I think Calipari has done the same thing, they’ve adapted to the landscape, and they are dealing with it in a positive way. Now, people want to link value judgments to it and say, ‘This is not the way it’s supposed to be’ and ‘This is antithetical to college.’ Well, says who?”

Krzyzewski, a proven winner in men’s Division I basketball, now has a history of 1,016 wins. After taking the helm at Duke, he didn’t have a player go pro early for nearly two decades.

Then, in 1999, three Blue Devils jumped the gun. Elton Brand and William Avery opted to enter the draft after their sophomore season and freshman, Corey Maggette, became Krzyzewski’s first of a number of one-and-done players.

In the fall of 2003, Luol Deng came to Duke for his freshman year and averaged 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. These stats aren’t eye popping, but he looked very solid and dependable on the court. NBA teams saw a great upside and the Suns picked him 7th in the 2004 draft.

Also in 2003, Shaun Livingston, the No. 1 ranked point guard in the nation signed to go to Duke, but then decided to go straight to the NBA and was chosen fourth in the 2004 draft. It had to hurt Coach K to lose a game-changer like Livingston.

For the next five years, Krzyzewski recruited players who tended to stick around. Then, he had several one-and-dones in four consecutive seasons: No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving in 2011, Austin Rivers in 2012, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood in 2013, and Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow in 2014.

In essence, with multiple one-and-dones in 2014 and coming up in 2015, what Coach K did is now becoming more similar to what John Calipari often is rebuked for doing with his “succeed and proceed” approach at Kentucky, in which he seeks to recruit almost exclusively one-and-doners.

It has worked quite well for him, yielding NCAA tournament wins and one national championship in 2012. However, a loss in the first round of the NIT only one year later in 2013 was quite a shock.

Some believed it was a mistake for Coach K to go after players who might leave after a year or two because a Duke diploma is considered almost a ticket to prominence in many fields.

Added to that, his one-and-done teams that were billed as good enough to win it all did not do so—that is, until last year. Suddenly, with the breakthrough of a national championship, we can perhaps begin to believe that if Krzyzewski did it once, he can do it again.

But this concept has clearly coerced the 68-year-old Krzyzewski to adjust his philosophy compared to the days when guys like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill stayed for four years, or even when players such as Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy stayed three years.

Both Bilas and Krzyzewski made similar statements regarding the present to the effect that Coach K has been playing against these players for years, and he’d be stupid to reject them if some now wish to play at Duke.

When talking about the building relationships in recruiting, Krzyzewski said:

“It actually starts now before they get here. We try with the kids, especially if they commit early, to develop even a deeper relationship with them than we did ten years ago. You had time [then]. You want to know them even better because you’re only going to have them for a shorter period of time.”

Yet, after Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized college basketball players who drop into college for a year on track for the NBA, Krzyzewski did admit he’d like to see players stay in college at least one more year.

“I would like to see them there for two years, so they’d be halfway towards a degree. Probably more than halfway with summer school.”

Will this happen in the foreseeable future? There does not seem to be a great deal of pressure on the NCAA to require two years in college for these young stars, but it could happen if higher ups begin to see clear advantages in such a policy. It has definitely not been ruled out.