If you somehow missed it, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports wrote about the United States steamrolling Serbia in the finals of the World Cup of Basketball and, in the process, took aim at Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.
In short, Woj is saying this: that the only person truly benefitting from the renewed focus on USA Basketball is Coach K, who is using the exposure that he gets, his relationships with NBA stars and his access to elite high school players that don the stars and stripes to help build his Duke program.
And he’s got a point.
Throughout the duration of the tournament, the Americans were truly tested for roughly one half of one game, when it took them 20 minutes to wake up against Turkey. They beat Serbia in the finals 129-92, a 37-point victory that makes the season Paul George lost to a broken leg seem all the more pointless. Why risk that kind of injury when no one in the world can compete with the US despite the fact that LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and George, amongst others, didn’t even make the trip to Spain?
As Woj says, “after the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the World Cup of Basketball and Olympic Games are destined to become an under-22 developmental tournament.”
But this is a college basketball website, and the part of this column that talks about college basketball is Woj setting his sights on Coach K. Here’s the goods:
Well, the trip did something else, too: It gave the Duke coach unfiltered access to two of the best high school players in the nation. Florida’s Billy Donovan was the under-19 head coach. Virginia’s Tony Bennett and VCU’s Shaka Smart were his assistants. They probably didn’t need Krzyzewski’s voice, but he probably didn’t ask their permission, either.
The roster of college stars happened to include two 17-year-old prep phenoms: Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor and Houston’s Justise Winslow. When Krzyzewski makes his triumphant return this week, two freshmen stars will be awaiting him on Duke’s campus: Okafor and Winslow.
Within the college recruiting game, no one ever considered it a coincidence when one of those younger USA Basketball national teams would detour through Vegas to watch Krzyzewski and his Duke assistants on the training camp floor with the biggest basketball stars in the world.
Without the access of USA Basketball, there’s a strong belief within the basketball community that Krzyzewski would’ve never landed Jabari Parker. Only, he had it, used it and signed him.
I have a number of thoughts on this:
– Anyone that is surprised by the notion that Coach K is using USA Basketball to help him recruit players to Duke should venmo me $10,000 as a down payment on the bridge in Brooklyn I’m selling. OF COURSE HE IS! Not only does this allow him access to 16- and 17-year old superstars in ways that other coaches are jealous of, it allows him to brag about his relationship with the icons that those kids want to grow up to be. Whether he took this job strictly to help him land players or because he actually wanted a chance to win a couple gold medals and work with the game’s best is up for debate and probably only truly known by Coach K and his family, but there’s no denying that it has helped his Duke program.
And, for what it’s worth, Coach K was landing elite, blue-chip, five-star recruits before he was associated with Team USA.
– Coach K is also far from the only college coach that is using their association with USA Basketball to help their program. Virginia’s Mike Tobey played on that 2013 U-19 team, over the likes of Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, where Virginia head coach Tony Bennett was on staff. Syracuse-commit Tyler Lydon made the U18 team this year despite being a late invite and being late to tryouts. Jim Boeheim is the chair of the Junior National Team Committee.
Sean Miller was an assistant coach on the U18 team that saw Justin Simon, Allonzo Trier, Isaiah Briscoe and Tyler Dorsey tryout for the team. Simon, who was already committed to the school during the tryouts, and Trier are UA commits. Dorsey, who was cut, decommitted from Arizona in May. Briscoe was long considered a priority target for the Wildcats. Trier and Briscoe both made the roster.
And let’s not forget that Kentucky head coach John Calipari became the head coach of the Dominican Republic national team in part because Karl-Anthony Towns, now a freshman at Kentucky, could play for the team. Former Kentucky assistant and current South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua is now running the Dominican national program.
– Woj is as tied in with NBA executives and owners as anyone. This piece, while reading like a takedown of Coach K, is really just Woj giving us the pulse of what is being said in NBA front offices around the league. These players are an investment — for some, a nine-figure investment — for the owners, and they don’t want to see their money-generating superstars out there risking injury and tiring out their bodies for an event that, frankly, is completely inconsequential in the United States.
Coach K has rebooted the sense of pride that we get from beating the hell out of everyone else in basketball and has used that to help him get land players at Duke. That’s what he’s supposed to do as a college basketball coach.
And the owners and general managers of NBA teams are allowed to be mad when their stars are risking injury and wearing themselves down in pursuit of a title that we should win every year regardless of who is coaching.
This was Woj’s takedown of USA Basketball.
Coach K just happened to get caught in the crossfire.