Basketball is constantly changing. In Mike "Coach K" Krzyzewski’s 30-plus years as Duke’s head coach, he has made sure to adapt to the sport’s changing landscape.
For fans who follow the Blue Devils closely, it’s imperative to take note of the offseason events that indicate Duke’s approach to the state of basketball. Successes and failures provide insight on the larger picture that the program is attempting to develop.
From recruiting to player development, these are lessons that came to light during Duke’s offseason.
There has been a perpetuated myth that Duke can’t get good post players. Duke antagonists have often enjoyed pointing out that Blue Devil big men haven’t developed over their college careers, and that has given high school recruits that play-in-the-paint pause when considering an offer from Duke.
Though this idea gets a lot of chatter, at its core, it doesn’t hold water. And recent history reinforces the fact that the Duke big-man myth is nonsense.
First of all, over four years Mason Plumlee made great strides. He went from a very raw freshman talent to a senior leader. While it wasn’t difficult to pick apart his post moves, it’s undeniable that that was a key figure in the Blue Devils' offense.
Beyond Plumlee’s development, the commitment of Jabari Parker was big news for Duke big men.
Parker may or may not be the best recruit in his class, thanks to Andrew Wiggins, but since Wiggins is a wingman, it’s safe to say that Parker is clearly the best big man coming out of high school. The fact that he chose to come to Duke puts to rest the notion that the Blue Devils can’t get commits from post players.
Plumlee’s role in the offense last season showed that Duke wants to get points in the paint, and adding Parker to the roster will ensure that the Blue Devils continue to push the ball into the post.
Between those two developments, it’s safe to say that the old wives' tale about Duke failing to develop or attract top-notch post players is way off the mark.
John Calipari has always been a great salesman. He lured top talent to UMass and Memphis before taking the job at Kentucky. With the Wildcats, Coach Cal has built a program on one-and-done recruits.
The transient nature of Kentucky’s team isn’t something that most Duke fans wish to emulate. Still, Coach Krzyzewski and Duke aren’t willing to simply cede over the top recruits to Kentucky.
By grabbing Jabari Parker, Duke has shown that the program has top recruits in their sights. By going after Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils are making it clear that they’ll continue to compete with Kentucky for the nation’s best high schoolers.
Duke may never haul in a fab five like this year’s incoming Kentucky class. However, Duke will continue to seek the services of the top high school products. As the commitments from Parker, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye prove, Duke will have success luring that top talent to Cameron.
Even though the landscape of college basketball is changing, the Blue Devils look to be able to keep pace with the sport’s increased emphasis on one-and-done players.
There haven’t been that many transfers during the Krzyzewski era. Only a handful of players have come to Duke after plying their trade at another school.
Most recently, the Blue Devils were grateful to earn the services of Seth Curry after he spent a year at Liberty. In the upcoming season, Duke will rely heavily on Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood.
Like Curry, a lot of positive stories about Hood’s play in practice during his forced year off have Duke fans excited. Hood will need to live up to the hype if the Blue Devils are to be a championship-caliber team.
But Duke wasn’t content with just adding Hood as a transfer. Tarik Black got a full-court press from the Blue Devils. Black would’ve been able to play immediately because he had graduated from Memphis. Duke wanted to add him to the roster because he would’ve been another big man to a team short on traditional post players.
The overall point is that Duke doesn’t appear to have the same qualms about taking in transfers that the program did during the '80s and '90s. With one-and-done players, college basketball has taken on more of a mercenary feel. The Blue Devils won’t shy away from one-year players, and, likewise, won’t turn up their noses at players looking to transfer.
Even with all the talk of one-and-done players and transfers, the core of Duke’s program will be player development.
This season might be heavy on players headed to the NBA when the final whistle blows. Next season and the season after that, however, will be determined by the progression of players currently way down on the depth chart.
Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye and Alex Murphy won’t see a ton of playing time this season, but they are the future of Blue Devils basketball. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee will see a lot of time on the court, but they will need to develop in order to keep the 2013-14 team in contention.
Four-year players might be out of fashion, but those types of guys are critical to sustained success. Unrefined projects like Plumlee will need a full four years of work to reach their full potential. Likewise, Alex Murphy will need some time to polish his game.
Even if long-term projects like Plumlee and Murphy never turn into star performers, they have more than enough talent to turn into fantastic role players. It’s exactly those sorts of players who change a good team into a great one.
Their experience and well-refined skills are invaluable. Even as Duke chases NBA-ready talent and short-term transfers, four-year players will continue to serve as the spine of Duke basketball.
Coach K was talked into returning to Team USA. He’ll guide the national team in the 2016 Olympics, and, as usual, the United States will be heavy favorites to win gold. While his association with Team USA is something Duke fans can enjoy, it does raise the specter of Coach K’s eventual retirement.
Imagine a situation where Coach K leads Duke for the next three seasons, then spends the summer of 2016 with the Olympic team. If Team USA wins gold, it would present Coach K— who would be 69 years old by then—with a potential storybook ending to a legendary career.
Coach K has given no indication that this is his plan, but it certainly seems like a fitting way to walk away from coaching.
Even if Coach K were to stay on beyond 2016, the stage has been set for his acolytes to compete for the eventual opening as Duke’s head coach.
Chris Collins is off to Northwestern to gain valuable experience as a head coach. If he can find success at a traditionally underachieving program with similarly stringent academic requirements, he might prove to be the most likely successor.
While we can’t know when the retirement is coming or who will eventually take over, it’s clear that Coach K’s career is coming to an end. Whether it’s 2016 or 2026, Duke fans should enjoy the Krzyzewski era while it lasts.