Let me begin by saying this is not intended to degrade, insult or otherwise be harsh of any Duke player or the team as a whole, and it’s certainly not intended to question Coach Krzyzewski.
But this article is probably not for Duke fans who wear blinders or think Duke is automatically the best team each year and no matter what happens you continue to insist they are. Loyalty is one thing and it’s great, but it blinds some fans from the truth.
I’ve been a fan of Duke basketball longer than Coach K has been the coach there. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. except that I’ve seen the good years for Duke, I’ve seen the great years for Duke, and I’ve seen years when Duke could not buy a game, losing to teams you may never have heard of. My point is I’ve seen trends in basketball come and go and having watched long enough to notice when trends are changing.
Those transitions are happening now.
There was a time in College basketball when teams had four year players, (that was the trend) and I can tell you that in no uncertain terms that College basketball was much better then than it is in it’s present form. Yes, I get that the landscape (trend) has changed in basketball on the College level, that one and done phenoms are all the rage, and that most teams and especially the fans drool over them. Most of them are extremely good players but they all have one glaring fault. That fault has never been more evident than it was in this year. That glaring fault is inexperience, level of maturity, and the difference of playing High School/AAU ball where they dominated, as opposed to College ball where it becomes much tougher Never mind the NBA.
Certainly there are exceptions to the rule where there is a player with such freakish athletic skills that can and have gone from High School to the NBA and make an immediate impact, such as Lebron, Kobe, and Garnett. Those players were the extreme exception. There is not one player in College ball who is that type of player right now nor has there been since Lebron. Even with the rule change which has the age limit that entices a kid to go to school for one year, none of them are that player.
So now the trend changed from 4 year players to the one and done phenoms. Lets load up on those and go for broke in one year mentality. Kentucky won a National Championship with them and the hype exploded after that to an even higher degree. That in my opinion was one of the worst things that could have happened to College basketball, not because it was Calipari and Kentucky but what it did to College basketball as a whole, again, that was an exception, there is always an exception. But what else it did was become an open door for people to start thinking this was the way to go, (the trend) following Kentucky’s National Championship. His next batch of one and done’s fell woefully short, not making the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.Yes, I understand Kentucky is still in the Tournament this year, barely getting by Wichita St and it remains to see what happens with them the rest of the way. However lets not pretend they, like many other teams who were led by Freshman didn’t struggle all year.
Inside of this trend of the one and done era all one has to do is take a look at the brackets. Who’s out, and who’s in. Most of the teams with the next can’t miss, sure fire, we win it all Freshman phenom’s are sitting on the March Madness couch. Most of the teams still playing are not led by Freshman. Dayton, Virginia, Iowa St, SDSU, Baylor and others. Only two teams are left that are led by Freshman and one of them only hung on by the thinnest of hairs.
But while the trend for the last few years has been to load up on Freshman phenoms and go for broke all in one year, there has been another trend afoot that has quietly starting to take shape, while we were to busy being wowed by the next batch of over-hyped Freshman phenoms. The smaller teams are learning, they’re gaining ground, again look at the brackets and the teams that made the NCAA field who pulled off big unexpected wins and some who are still playing in the round of 16.
I don’t want to get off topic here but lets look at a few of the Freshman phenoms.
No better place than Jabari Parker to start. Parker was/is an extremely good player and his numbers for the most part will back that up. His upside is very promising on an NBA level, but let’s be honest here. Parker’s game does have weaknesses that were apparent all season long. Parker lacks defensive skills, sure he made some highlight reel blocks at times, and over all played pretty while playing out of his normal position. What he didn’t grasp was defensive rotation. Sometimes screens where set on a teammate and he felled to rotate and would momentarily get lost, by then it was to late, 2 points for the other team. Parker is not the quickest guy in College basketball, nor will he be in the NBA obviously. Parker’s mid-range game also needs work. There were times that little fall away jumper from 8′ to 12′ out mark had NBA written all over it, there were too many times it didn’t, it looked more like a Nissan than a Mercedes. Then there’s his 3 point shoot, which for the most time fell short of the Nissan. To put it quite frankly it wasn’t there, he needs lots of work in that area. All this is not to say Parker wasn’t a very good player, he was, but Parker’s overall game will need to improve to become a star in the NBA. He can go now, but in my honest opinion he would benefit greatly by staying in school at least one more year. At his present level if he enters the NBA this year, he will not make the impact that most seem to think he will. Keep in mind, there is less practice time in the NBA than College because of the amount of games played and much more travel time is involved. In a few years down the road he could become a star in the NBA, but he will not make an immediate impact.
Without going into all the other so called, can’t miss Freshman phenoms (Wiggins, Randle, Gordon and the other 6 or 7 that everyone thought were going to be phenoms) the same things are true for them, the reasons may differ somewhat but in the end they were not what they were billed to be.
We live in a society where we want it now, instantly, and most times especially in basketball it just doesn’t happen that way. These kids need time to grow, to mature, to hone their skills, but we are to quick to build them up way beyond what’s realistic. It’s not fair to the players who are put on this pedestal and are compared to and called the next Carmelo Anthony, or the next Larry Bird and so on and so on. We need to let these kids be who they are, the first Jabari Paker, the first Andrew Wiggins, and the first Aaron Gordon.
The truth is none of these kids are as good as we the fans and the media build them up to be, they just simply aren’t. But yet every year we do this as surely as sun rises in the East. They are over over-hyped, everyone of them, most are extremely good but they aren’t great, they aren’t the next Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or Kevin Durant. They are all players who need to stay right where they are, in college unless family and financial reasons dictate otherwise. So many players who have the talent to eventually play in the NBA never make it because they left School to soon, or their little hanger on’s or cool little entourage that keeps whispering in their ear, “go get it man, you’re the guy, you’re the man”, only to make that jump to soon sometimes never to be heard of again. Part of another ugly but realistic trend.
I keep speaking of trends, I spoke of four year players and how basketball was better when that was the norm instead of the exception rather than this new, trendy, sexy if you will, style that Calipari and others have come to make popular. I spoke of how long I’ve been a fan longer than Coach K has been there, I only say that because of trends I’ve witnessed and changes I’ve seen over the years. Things tend to run in cycles and basketball is no exception. For the most part, the one and done teams are falling short. These teams try their best to load up on 5 star players, roll the dice and hope to win it all in one shot like some Vegas high roller, it’s a gamble, it’s a one in 360 shot, the odds are always with the house. It generally doesn’t work, that’s a fact.
Here’s another fact that as I mentioned earlier that has quietly become the trend while we weren’t watching. These Mid-Majors are loading up with 3 star players who stay 4 years while the sexy Schools are loading up with 5 star players going for bust and only have them one year. These smaller, less know Schools who actually have a Coach who can indeed coach, and who have 3 star players who can play and stay 3 and 4 years are better teams than the Schools who load up on one and done’s. They’re more experienced, more mature, the chemistry is unique, thus, playing together well as a unit, a team , rather than pinning all their hopes on Freshman to lead their team.
As much as I love the players that come to Duke, there is one thing that’s we should all remember. Look up there in the rafters, see those four National Championship banners? Not one of them was hung because of a Freshmen lead team
I’m not begrudging the players who leave early, some of their reasons are valid, some are not. I can’t see denying anyone an opportunity to make a living. I don’t like it as a fan, but that’s just how it is. I don’t pretend to have an answer to the problem of one and done’s be it real or perceived, there are those who don’t see it as a problem and that’s fine, they’re entitled to their opinion. As a College basketball fan I do personally have a problem with it. I see how it hurts the sport I am passionate about, though again, I don’t have an answer for it, not sure anyone does.
But with the current landscape of College basketball, if I’m the Coach and it’s my job to have my team succeed on the court and hopefully off the court, to graduate players, build character, to witness boys grow into men, then, while you as those opposing coach, load up on the over-hyped once in a lifetime 5 star players “who by the way come along every year” if you believe that, then I as the Coach will take the 3 star players who stay four years. Give me four years for my players to grow, learn and gain experience, my team is gonna kick your teams butt come NCAA Tournament time while your sitting on the March Madness Couch, and that equation is much more sustainable, it’s working, you don’t think so? Take another look at the teams left in the Tournament.
This trend is already in progress, all you need do is open your eyes. Examples are Butler making the Championship game not one but two years in a row only to lose to Duke on a shot that was no more than a millimeter off. George Mason making the Final Four just a few years ago, VCU’s success just a couple years ago, and most recently Wichita St ‘s Final Four just last year, and an undefeated regular season and Conference Championship this year and just like Butler almost neat Duke, the Shockers came within a breath of beating Kentucky or they would still be in it.
These teams no longer care about the name on your jersey, they are not afraid of the Duke’s, the Kentucky’s, the Jayhawks or the UNC’s. They care about one thing and one thing only, knocking you out. and a growing number of them have the ability to do that very thing, These teams believe in themselves. They not only believe they can win, they believe they should win. They believe we are in their way, instead of us thinking their in our way. Those days are gone.
The level between a #1 seed and a #14 seed is shrinking every year folks. Sooner or later an #8 to a #14 seeded team is going to win the Tournament, and it going to happen because of some of the reasons I’ve stated above, I think it happens sooner, rather than later, maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it’s going to happen, mark my word.