Coach K has said this a couple of times, and he's absolutely right, although
perhaps not explicit enough: people's expectations are a bit out of whack
when it comes to the basketball team.
This is, first and foremost, a very young team, and they have a lot to
learn. So, unfortunately, do many fans, who have come accustomed to 30-win
seasons. What happens at Duke is not normal, and it doesn't happen by
So when we hear criticisms of various players, of strategy, of rotations, you
know, everyone wants the team to do well, and we all (us included) think we
understand everything, but the reality is, we don't.
We, meaning all of us, have almost zero insight into physical performance
issues and less than that into individual and group psychology. Our
collective technical knowledge of basketball is pretty slim. But sometimes
passion zooms past reason, and many of us, certainly those of us here at DBR,
say some not-so-bright things at times.
This discussion has gone on for some time, and the counterpoint, we know, is:
why shouldn't things be criticized? And that's largely true. But
even when one says, for instance, Duke needs to do things differently at the end
of close games because a, b, or c tends to happen, we don't know why d
was the option picked.
It's a very public sport, and a highly visible program, and criticism is at
times warranted. Certainly we don't think Mike Krzyzewski, for
instance, is above criticism.
The issue to us is how informed critics can be. Dick Vitale, for all
his braying, understands the game and could critique a performance or a season
pretty well. Same for Fran Fraschilla, a repulsive person if ever there
was one (his performance at St. John's was pretty ugly in many respects).
Most people, certainly including us, don't have the requisite knowledge to
critique the game very well, and the risk you run in saying something like
"Duke should pick up full court," or "the rotation is too
small," or "Player A should play more to improve this aspect of his
game" is that a) people who do know what they're talking about will spot
foolishness quickly, and b) the remarkably supportive environment at Duke will
further mimic the environment at places like UNC, where winning is seen as an
entitlement, rather than the result of years and years of hard work.
Let's face it: being a Duke fan has come to mean being an adrenaline
junkie. We expect a high level of performance and drama, and we get
it. But it's not automatic. It's the result of insanely hard work,
and we forget that at the risk of losing what makes basketball here so special.
Coach K is right. This team is working very hard to improve, and they
deserve our support and our encouragement, and need that, much more than they
need to be picked apart by their own fans. They're not perfect, and part
of the joy in sports is in arguing over things, but there are positive and
negative ways to do it.
Really, this is the same point he made, in a different way and a different
context, to the Chronicle writers years ago, and one he has revisited several
times since. Criticism is fine, necessary even, but what sets Duke apart
is being part of the team and part of the building process. Success - and
expectations - have changed Duke basketball a lot, and not always for the