Allow me to address a couple of issues that have come up since I wrote Monday’s story about Derryck Thornton’s decision to transfer.
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There is at least one Kentucky-based website trying to promote the story that Mike Krzyzewski forced Thornton out to make room for Marques Bolden on the roster.
Absolutely no truth to that – if Coach K was going to force a player out to make room for Bolden, it wouldn’t be Thornton, a player who would have been a significant player at Duke in 2017-18. He would have been a far better option as a junior point guard than any freshman that K can recruit in next year’s class.
Actually, Coach K and his staff tried very hard to convince Thornton (and his family) to be patient, stay and Duke and work for his chance to come.
The apparent roster logjam is the result of Krzyzewski offering Australian Jack White a scholarship. Now, White is a nice long-term prospect on the wing, but with Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum available on the wing next year, it’s not like he filled an immediate need.
The fact is that K offered White only after he learned that Thornton was determined to leave. There was always room for Bolden, should he decide to come.
Besides, if you check the Kentucky roster, you’ll find 13 players expected in Lexington next season. If Bolden (or Texas center Jarrett Allen) picks the Wildcats, John Calipari will have some scrambling to do – either somebody must transfer (Mychael Mulder?) or a kid who won’t be drafted (Isaiah Briscoe?) must stay in the draft.
Maybe a little projecting going on in Big Blue Nation?
A more serious issue has been raised by Thornton’s uncle – Mark Edwards – in a series of tweets after the transfer announcement. According to 247 Sports:
"I was in Coach K's office when he told Derryck he would be used in a ball screen offense," Edwards told 247Sports’ Jerry Meyer. "Looking at this year’s team, I think he knew he wouldn’t have the type of team to follow through on that promise. Derryck was in on 20+ ball screen situations this year, and in comparison (Providence freshman) Kris Dunn was in over 250+ situations ... to me, he was lied to."
First, let’s get one thing straight. Dunn was not a freshman – he was a fourth-year junior at Providence. As a freshman, Dunn didn’t get 250+ pick and roll situations – he got just 110 shots and passed out 65 assists all that season (far less than Thornton managed in both categories).
Dunn probably did get 250+ pick and roll chances last season. Is Edwards seriously suggesting that Thornton should have gotten the same offensive opportunities as a returning All-American who was playing in his fourth year at Providence?
But what about K’s "promises"?
All I can say is that I’ve been covering Krzyzewski since his arrival in the spring of 1980 and I’ve never known him to promise any player anything – except the opportunity to excel. Just days ago, Brandon Ingram published a farewell to Duke in Derek Jeter’s Player Tribune in which he said that one of the things that he most appreciated about K was that the Duke coach never promised him anything – not even a starting role.
That’s always been Krzyzewski’s approach – he’s always run a Darwinian system. The best players play the most minutes and if the guys on the end of the bench want more minutes or more shots, they have to earn those things in practice.
Players who have made demands for promises of playing time or an offensive role have swiftly been shown the door. That’s what happened when recruit Kris Humphries and his father demanded a certain guarantee of playing time in the summer of 2003. It’s what happened when Elliot Williams and his "handlers" demanded a greater role in the offense in the summer of 2009.
Note: I mistakenly wrote Monday that Williams’ grandmother was ailing … it was his mother, Delois, diagnosed with cancer in 2009. She died of the disease in 2013. I don’t mean to minimize the tragedy in the least. But I stand by my sources who say that primary the reason behind the transfer was K’s refusal to change his offense to accommodate Williams.
I would also argue that no one with a modicum of basketball wisdom could suggest that Duke should have changed its offense last year to accommodate Thornton. Maybe K did want to run a lot of pick and roll action going into last season, but that plan took a hit when Amile Jefferson went down. He was the team’s best pick and roll big man. That wasn’t a strength for Marshall Plumlee – and you certainly wouldn’t want to use "power forward" Brandon Ingram as the post man in the pick and roll.
What happened was that Coach K tweaked his offense to take advantage of his best offensive talent. According to Ken Pomeroy, Duke ended the season with the nation’s seventh most efficient offense. That was with Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram taking the majority of the shots. Rather than pick and roll, Duke’s offense was more predicated on drive and kick out.
Thornton certainly got plenty of chances to show his stuff – more minutes than all but a handful of freshmen point guards in Duke history and more shots than most. Where he came up short – and lost playing time late – was his failure to set up his teammates.
Edwards said Duke "begged" his nephew to come to Duke a year early.
That’s a strong word, but I do know that the Blue Devils did strongly encourage Thornton to reclassify (back to his original high school class) and come to Duke a year early. But they did it because they wanted him as a point guard, not another scorer. Coach K and his staff knew they had plenty of scorers – but the somewhat unexpected departure of Tyus Jones after his freshman year, left the team in need of a playmaker.
Thornton never wanted to play that role. That’s what limited his minutes down the stretch.
It’s a shame that his departure should be tarnished by his uncle’s ugly attacks. The kid himself handled his exit in a classy manner.
But we’ve seen delusional, obnoxious parents or family members before – remember Chris Burgess’ dad? Any older fans remember Mike Gminski’s father?
K has said he tries to recruit family members as much as kids. He’s raved about the families of his 2014 class – he even suggested that Okafor’s father and uncle (Chucky and Emeka) should have their own sitcom.
On the whole, Duke has been very lucky when it comes to family connections.
But every extended family – and that’s what Duke basketball is – has a few black sheep.