Dean Smith gave Coach K an Olympic-sized leg up in ’05


The Tobacco Road rivalry is the biggest in college basketball. Bar none, end of discussion. As much as we like to believe that the games played between North Carolina and Duke supersede all bonds of family and national pride, it turns out that two of the men at the heart of the game’s most vituperative regional clash have plenty of respect for one another, and know when to put the rivalry aside in favor of reaching a bigger goal.

The Harvard Business Review, of all publications, brings us the inside story of Mike Krzyzewski’s rise to the helm of Team USA. The periodical interviewed Jerry Colangelo — the former GM of the Phoenix Suns, who was brought in to run the red, white and blue squad in 2005 — and got a fascinating look at the internal process that led to Coach K’s selection.

In a room full of basketball legends like Michael Jordan, Chuck Daley, Larry Bird, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens, it was the man who had personally suffered hair-tearing losses to the Duke Blue Devils who emerged as the persuasive voice of reason.

Armed with an agreed-upon set of qualities, Colangelo was now comfortable soliciting candidate names from the group. He gave specific instructions to nominate potential coaches only if they fit the just-established requirements. “A bunch of names went on the white board, all with stellar win-loss records. We talked about each one, weighing the pros and cons,” Colangelo told me.

At one point during the debate, Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith of UNC—soft-spoken off the court—voiced “loud support” for Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, head coach of Duke University. As Colangelo told this story, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to set me straight, “You’re from Louisville and you think that the Louisville/Kentucky game is a big deal and a big rivalry. But that’s nothing compared to the rivalry when UNC plays Duke. They play for blood. So when Coach Smith told us that no one will connect with and motivate the players like Coach K, the whole crowd was silent. That was a big moment for all of us.”

Some of the Carolina Blue faithful may consider Smith’s advocacy to be dark heresy, but there’s no arguing with the results. Team USA, coming off of a series of humiliating international losses, is now a two-time gold medal winning institution under Krzyzewski. As we learned from The Wire: game recognize game. Which worked out pretty well for the nation’s hoops aspirations.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.