This video is currently on ESPN’s home page for college basketball, or was if it’s already rolled off, so we hope that you can see it. If not, we’ll try to summarize:
Stephen A. Smith is abrasive and shouts a lot, but is nevertheless occasionally insightful.
This is not one of those occasions.
In this video, he says that Mike Krzyzewski’s masterful job with the U.S. Olympic team over 12 years gives Duke “an unfair advantage” in recruiting.
This is in response to LeBron James’ suggestion that he’d like for his son to play for Coach K.
With all due respect to Stephen A., that’s hogwash.
If you’ll step into the Wayback Machine with us, recall that when Coach K took the job, the national team was in utter disarray. Larry Brown had just coached the team to a bronze medal, complaining the entire time about his players, many of whom indeed played and behaved poorly.
It was so bad that Tim Duncan said “FIBA sucks” and swore off international competition for the rest of his career.
When Coach K took the job, John Feinstein, who periodically fires from the hip without necessarily thinking it through, said that it was going to kill Duke’s recruiting.
As it turned out, he was wrong about that. In 2008, Duke’s recruiting was not focused on one-and-done talent. That was a shift made later and, in 2008, was unforeseen.
And, as it also turned out, after one loss to Greece early in his tenure, Coach K realized a few critical things: first, he had to rebrand the Olympic experience to make NBA players not just want to be part of it but to insist on being part of it.
Second, three point shooting changed the game to the point where the US, focused more on driving to the basket, had to find ways to compensate. So the obvious first way to change that was to bring your own three point shooters. And a second critical adjustment was to use a ridiculous advantage in athleticism and versatility to grind other countries down on defense.
Guys with short memories like Stephen A. forget the disaster Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo encountered when they systematically rebuilt the US team into a juggernaut. In 2008, a lot of people just accepted the idea that our time as an international basketball power - the international power - was over.
Now, it seems like an unfair advantage to have LeBron praise Coach K. But why isn’t Stephen A. saying this about Drake showing up at Rupp Arena constantly (well maybe not as much lately) or John Calipari coaching the Dominican team or the US U-19 team?
The truth is that when Coach K took the USA Basketball gig, he did it for unselfish reasons and with serious concerns by some that it could have a negative effect on his Duke program, career, and legacy. Even we wondered if it was a good idea but said, as we recall, that he had earned the right to do it and Duke fans should be supportive.
The fact that he succeeded brilliantly, that he learned a tremendous amount, and simultaneously rejuvenated his Duke program is hardly unfair. It was a result of extraordinary commitment, hard work, and intelligence.
If LeBron enjoyed his experience, how is that different from Michael Jordan constantly praising Dean Smith during his career? Wasn’t that an unfair advantage?
Stephen A. Smith should go back in the archives and look at what a mess USA Basketball was in 2008 and he, along with everyone interested in American success in the sport, should (including LeBron) thank Coach K for the brilliant job that he did, and ask this simple question: who the hell else could have done that?
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