There once was a guy who stood for all the right things. He was built a little too high, maybe, but in the dirty world of college sports, he stood for graduation rates, good manners and gold medals. At times, it seemed as if he were the only one.
I miss Mike Krzyzewski. He's gone now. The guy coaching Duke basketball is totally unrecognizable.
After all these years of righteousness, he now has a player that has had multiple incidents of tripping opponents. Against Syracuse earlier this season, he appeared to refuse to shake hands with certain Orange players. He fills his roster with players who are only in college for one year as a means to jump to the NBA. It's the kind of thing he used to stand above. Maybe that's the modern world he is adapting to.
But this past week in the moments after his team lost in the NCAA tournament, he took Oregon player Dillon Brooks aside and tore into him for having the audacity to make a shot late in the game rather than let the clock run out. The shot, in the minds of some, violated one of the codes of college basketball. So did Krzyzewski in taking down another team's player.
Then came the actual truth, out of necessity.
"In the postgame press conference," Krzyzewski said Saturday in a statement announcing that he had apologized to Oregon coach Dana Altman, "I reacted incorrectly to a reporter's question about my comments to Dillon."
Krzyzewski correctly said in his statement that it wasn't his place to talk to another team's player. But it was an interesting, and not accidental, choice of words. "Reacted incorrectly'' does not rhyme with "pants on fire.’'
What happened is that Brooks made a three-point shot just before the buzzer when the game was already decided, rather than letting the shot clock run down and taking a turnover. In the row of postgame handshakes, Krzyzewski told Brooks, "You're too good of a player to do that.’'
That's what Brooks said had happened. Krzyzewski angrily said in his postgame press conference, "I didn't say that." Instead he claimed he had told Brooks only that he's a good player. Unfortunately for Krzyzewski, CBS' microphone showed that Brooks had it right. Coach K was caught.
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New CBS audio reveals Coach K totally lied about what he said to Dillon Brooks last night https://t.co/bLYopTL3SA https://t.co/pMEDY41T3G3/26/2016, 2:45:06 AM
That's what led to the apology and public statement.
If this is what Krzyzewski has turned into, at age 69, then it's time for him to seriously think about how much longer he wants to keep coaching. There would be no grander exit than to win another gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
There are all sorts of codes in sports. Good ones, dumb ones. Mostly dumb ones. Krzyzewski knows how to behave after losses. The winningest coach in history has lost a lot of games, too.
If this had been just a one-time slip-up, then we could move on now. Krzyzewski made a mistake, and he apologized. End of story. But that's not what happened. Krzyzewski didn't just step over the line. He lives there now.
He has had no shortage of players over the years who annoy fans. Take Christian Laettner. Sure, there are players who are just so intense that they can turn people off. Especially if they're from Duke.
But this year, Duke has Grayson Allen, who has taken it up another level, tripping players, crossing his own line into dirty.
Meanwhile, Krzyzewski won the national championship last year with a roster of one-and-dones. For years, he was critical of the practice of recruiting top high school players for the purpose of playing one year in college before going to the NBA. Kentucky coach John Calipari built a modern champion by turning his university into a temporary farm service for the pros, but unlike Coach K, he is often vilified for it.
Krzyzewski gave in and followed Calipari, holding his nose to the practice and saying he was dragged into it by changing times. Note: Neither Kentucky nor Duke is in the Final Four this year. That's not to say there's anything wrong with one-and-dones. It's to say that Krzyzewski stood against them on high ground and no longer does.
Krzyzewski has gotten too big. It's not just that he has believed all of the praise about him, because the truth is that it was all accurate. It's that he has become the king of college basketball, a game that is about coaches. The NBA is about players.
The old Coach K is lost. At the Chicago Midwest Regional on Saturday, Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon—a fifth-year player getting his master's degree—was asked about what Krzyzewski had done. He said it was OK for K to be critical of a player, that he had earned that right.
Meanwhile, the CBS mic also picked up something else: After Krzyzewski chewed out Brooks, Brooks said "I'm sorry, Coach. That's my bad." Later, Brooks apologized publicly for turning a private conversation into a public one.
The funny thing is that Brogdon and Brooks were following the code by not being critical of Krzyzewski, by paying him respect. Those are the manners and class that Krzyzewski has fought for for years.
It was encouraging to see such grace in the face of others reacting "incorrectly.'' Someone has to be the grown-up in the room.
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