Coach K's latest crusade: Railing against the freshmen hype
Mike Krzyzewski's team is a title contender again in large part because of a freshman phenom. But the attention on the best freshmen is too much, according to K.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, an undeniable basketball legend in his own right, has taken it upon himself in recent years to speak out on issues that bother him. From conference realignment to Maryland leaving the ACC to the NBA and the NCAA's inability to come upon an agreement for early entry, Coach K's morphed into something of a controlled chatterbox about it all. This has been a good thing.
We need the biggest names in every sport willing to talk, willing to relate and express their ideas and not be so robotic or on autopilot when it comes to issues that matter within their sports. (Think how boring it would be if K was essentially Bill Belichick.) Collectively, sports has seen its biggest and brightest demurely step back from the microphone over the past 15 years due to the hyperactive media culture that's enveloped us all.
So I'm never going to complain when Krzyzewski wants to speak out. But the latest grousing could be qualified as a foofaraw. Krzyzewski has an issue with how the freshmen in college basketball are being covered. Namely: That they're being overcovered. The hype, the attention, the marketing, it's all too much, according to the 66-year-old Beyonce fan.
In the lead-up to tonight's NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Krzyzewski spoke with the media on Tuesday. From Zags Blog:
Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t think it’s right that the “Big 4″ college freshmen are getting non-stop media attention and he’s pointing the blame squarely at ESPN for overhyping them.
“Nationally I’m a little bit worried that that is always becoming the thing,” Coach K said. “I think part of it is that the people who show our games, show NBA, too, so they’re constant thought is cross-promoting.”
“Yeah, and I love ESPN,” Coach K said. “I think they should do whatever they want to do. What I’m saying is we as a college basketball community should not completely buy into that.”
ESPN's the easy target because that network by far puts on the most games in the regular season. K mentioned Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart and Creighton senior Doug McDermott as other players worth pushing, calling Smart "the best story" in college basketball so far this season.
He has a point tucked inside the pocket of that strawman argument. Smart has rightfully been given just as much pub as any of the freshmen. And McDermott has seen his profile raised very high as he's played out his career to a senior year that will undoubtedly land him on some level of an All-American team. You could argue McDermott's play so far -- 27.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG -- is just about at the level of Smart's for Player of the Year.
But it's not just those two. Let's not forget Arizona State's Jahii Carson, who is also on the way to plenty of conversation and rightful hype. Then there's UNC sophomore Marcus Paige, along with seniors Shabazz Napier (UConn) and Adreian Payne and Keith Appling (Michigan State). K has a point, but only to a point. There is also a difference in college basketball coverage vs. college basketball marketing. Krzyzewski can't control either, even if his voice and opinions have real power within the sport.
Cause and effect here. If NBA scouts are buying into Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon and Parker as top-five material, then the coverage is legitimate. College basketball had star power for three decades; it's what made it compete in national sports coverage. Slowly over the past 15 years, that star power has disintegrated to a significant degree.
Now it's back, so of course media -- and fans -- will embrace it full-on. And K plays into the game as well by landing five-star recruits on the regular. He's benefiting as much as anyone else. There's plenty of room to go around for all the best stories in college basketball, and just because freshman are receiving a lot of attention doesn't mean they're not worthy of it or that we're wrong to desire it.
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