What do you get the coach who has everything?
Mike Krzyzewski has four national championships, two gold medals and his current team is ranked No. 1 in the country. Having gone 9-0 with wins over Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State, it's difficult to think of something Coach K doesn't already have.
Of course legendary status in sports, which is what Coach K has achieved, is earned thanks to an unrelenting resistance to resting on one’s laurels. In other words, even with all he has, Coach K still wants more.
This season, Duke’s legendary leader most desires ACC regular season and tournament titles followed by another national championship. He’d probably also enjoy it if conference realignment wasn’t threatening to tear the ACC apart or change it into something altogether unrecognizable.
However, this is a wish list on a budget. So focusing on reasonable short term presents that he wouldn’t mind receiving, these are a few things that Coach Krzyzewski would like to see under his tree this Christmas season.
As a Chicago native, Mike Krzyzewski would love nothing more than a gift-wrapped top high school prospect from his hometown.
Jabari Parker, one of the nation’s best high school hoops stars, has announced that he will declare which school he’ll be attending on December 20th. Coach K is among five other coaches sending letters to Santa begging for Parker’s services.
Parker’s father suggested that Duke and Michigan State were his son’s top two choices, but like any good parent, isn't spilling secrets about potential presents. That, of course, makes the prospects of Parker’s commitment that much more tantalizing.
Next year, Duke loses Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly to graduation. While Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye are well-regarded recruits to go along with incoming transfer Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils would do well to add a top-rated talent like Parker to what will be a young 2013-14 roster.
Additionally, the Blue Devils need to land a top one-and-done target to prove that Duke University isn’t just a destination for high school sharpshooters and members of the Plumlee family.
Recruiting one-and-done players has changed college basketball. Landing a highly-prized player like Jabari Parker would show that Duke can keep pace with the likes of Kentucky.
Also, Coach K and Duke fans were robbed of a full year of Kyrie Irving, so Duke has yet to enjoy an entire season with a nationally fawned-over one-and-down wearing the Blue Devils’ colors.
After a preseason injury sidelined him for 6-8 weeks, Marshall Plumlee is set to return just in time for Christmas.
While it isn't exactly a Christmas miracle, Coach K will enjoy having the 6’11” youngest Plumlee brother as an off-the-bench asset.
Currently, the only backup center for Mason Plumlee is a sort of timeshare between Ryan Kelly, Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson. Kelly has the height at 6’11”, but his game isn’t that of a true post player. Hairston and Jefferson, meanwhile, are undersized in the low blocks.
This lack of height and post play are key culprits in Duke’s subpar rebounding this season. Getting 35.6 rebounds per game, the Blue Devils rank No. 169 in the country. Duke comes it at 161st in defensive boards, compared to ranking 301st in offensive rebounds (via StatSheet). Coach K will certainly identify this as an area of concern.
Marshall Plumlee’s arrival should serve to help in this regard.
He offers a true post player to spell his older brother or to team up with Mason when Kelly takes a breather. As a result, Duke should find him a more adept rebounder and low-post defender than what has been available thus far.
Plus, with both Kelly and Mason Plumlee graduating, it will be good for Marshall Plumlee to find some time on the court as he prepares to be Duke’s big man of the future.
Whether he’s an additional role player adding depth to the bench or a formidable low-post presence that can contribute substantial minutes, Marshall Plumlee’s return to the Blue Devils is an excellent gift for the remainder of Duke’s season.
So far Seth Curry has successfully powered through a lingering leg injury. Curry has averaged 16.1 points and been one of Duke’s best players. He’s also playing 30.6 minutes per game and has only missed one fixture thus far; he missed a contest against Delaware following an ankle roll he suffered in the Ohio State game.
When rested, Curry has been Duke’s best outside scorer. When pressed into a condensed schedule, however, Curry has struggled.
During the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, where Duke played three games in three days, Curry’s stats got progressively worse. He scored 25 points against Minnesota, 15 against VCU and 14 against Louisville (game log via ESPN).
While the quality of the opponent increased in each of those games, it certainly didn’t help that Curry had little-to-no time to recuperate between court appearances.
Duke’s conference schedule will test how well Curry can handle the wear and tear of playing three games in six or seven days.
Curry’s scoring and leadership are crucial to Duke’s success. Without Curry, the Blue Devils would have to turn to Tyler Thornton. As excellent a defender as Thornton is, he couldn’t even come close to replacing the amount of offense that would be lost in Curry’s absence.
For that reason, Coach K is probably hoping that someone gives Seth Curry a little extra ability to bounce back health-wise so that he’s available and effective for the long haul of the season.
It might seem strange to wish for highly-competitive conference play. However, teams these days simply don’t go undefeated. The way Duke’s schedule shapes up, their loss(es) most likely won’t crop up until conference play after the New Year begins.
It would be a real shame if Duke lost only a couple of games all year, but those dropped games came to conference foes and cost Duke a regular season ACC title.
If the ACC turns into a tough slog for all involved, then three losses (or so) inside the conference wouldn’t put a team behind the eight ball in terms of the ACC standings.
Plus, losses can be real learning experiences. They keep egos in check, prove the necessity to improve on areas of vulnerability and force players to reaffirm their commitment.
While Duke seems like a team with its head firmly on its shoulders, an eventual loss would put to rest an Indianapolis Colts situation where people discuss going undefeated and lose focus on preparing for the postseason.
So the benefit of a conference slugfest would be that Duke could drop a couple games, learn from their mistakes while continuing to compete for the ACC title and go into tournament season in top form.
The ACC offers a wide variety of opposition. Maryland and Miami are physical foes, while UNC wants to run and NC State boasts a load of talent trying to come together as a team. Win or lose, playing those types of teams is great preparation for the NCAA tournament.
A loss here or there isn’t the end of the world so long as the other ACC teams trade barbs so that one or two slip-ups don’t cost the Blue Devils a regular season conference title.
Mike Krzyzewski has been courted by NBA teams before. The Lakers were one of the teams that showed a high degree of interest at one point. As bad as Los Angeles has been so far this season, why wouldn’t someone suggest another coaching change?
Kobe Bryant has a great relationship with Coach K thanks to the Olympics. Coaching NBA talent on the world stage has given Coach K street cred when it comes to managing professional athletes. Given Kobe’s penchant for blurting things out to the media and throwing teammates and coaches under the bus, is it unreasonable to imagine Kobe making a plea for Coach K’s services?
Although it’s 99.9 percent certain that Mike Krzyzewski is staying put at Duke for the remainder of his career, I’m sure Coach K wouldn’t mind having a marquee NBA franchise beg for his services. Better still if the impassioned plea is made by Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s biggest stars.
Coach K could deny the reports, reject the notion of leaving Duke and bask in all the well-deserved attention. That’s not a bad way to spend the holiday season.
He may be deified at Duke, but Mike Krzyzewski is still human. Therefore, he probably enjoys having his ego stroked as much as the next guy. So why wouldn’t the college coach with the most career wins get a Christmas kick out of being wooed by Kobe and the Lakers?