Anti-Duke Manifesto

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Bastardizing Game Effects of Pro-Duke Officiating

Think the officials’ bias is inconsequential or overstated? Think again. While the numbers themselves tell the story, decades of history provide extensive anecdotal evidence of the college ref’s embellishing impact. How many of the all time Duke basketball greats promptly proceeded to fizzle at the next level where game rules are actually enforced in an unbiased manner and where defenders must actually defend their opponents standing up? Mark Alarie, Johnny Dawkins, David Henderson, Billy King, Robert Brickey, Phil Henderson, Kevin Strickland, Danny Ferry, Alaa Abdelnaby, Brian Davis, Antonio Lang, Cherokee Parks, William Avery, Shane Battier, Reshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones, Chris Carawell, Mike Dunleavy — the list is seemingly endless. Past Duke rosters read like a ‘Who’s Who?’ of professional basketball jokes, most of whom quickly ship out to European leagues after early failure in the NBA. Greg Koubek, for example, did impressive pro tours in Turkey, South Africa, and Hungary. Greg Newton found his stardom in Canada after failing in the true basketball hotbed of Bulgaria. Others find homes in the prestigious NBDL, (e.g. Nate James who starred for the North Charleston Lowgators before being cut in France.) Still others fill high school gym bleachers for the CBA. One of my Duke favorites, Ricky Price, did so with the Great Lakes Storm.

With the sole exceptions of Grant Hill (on those rare seasons when he does not – like his college mentor — sit out entire seasons for injuries), Elton Brand, and Carlos Boozer, it would be fair to say that every Coach K era Duke basketball star has, at the pro level, either completely failed or substantially under performed vis–vis his college record, with Danny Ferry perhaps best symbolizing the stuff of the Duke basketball reality check.

Duke fans respond that Luol Deng and Corey Maggette are also big pro successes. Personally, I believe the jury is still out on Mr. Deng, but let’s add both players to the short list of Duke’s successful pros. Doing so only furthers the argument that Duke is bad for player development. Why? Because both Deng and Maggette left Duke after a single season, before the college refs’ kid gloves treatment spoiled their natural abilities. Note also that Brand left after two years, Boozer after three. So in the end, Grant Hill is really the only player to have overcome four year’s of Duke experience and still succeed in the NBA. Of course even the precious few Dukies who survive in the NBA fail to win championships. With the exception of Danny Ferry, who had the dumb luck to find himself riding the bench of Tim Duncan’s champion Spurs teams, no Coach K graduate has ever (legally) popped anything more than a Motrin tablet in an NBA locker room.

The consistency with which Duke players ripen into professional failures is staggering. Even the ’sure thing’ future NBA stars promptly stink it up as pros. Remember two-time player of the year, Mr. Everything, Jason Williams? The guy picked second overall in the 2002 NBA draft? In the single season NBA career that followed before breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident, he averaged less than 10 points a game and shot under forty percent. How about William Avery, that other Duke great whom commentators saw as a can’t miss NBA star? You remember, the 14th overall pick in the ‘99 draft? His three year career ended with a scoring average of 2.7 ppg on a hideous 33% shooting percentage. Trajan Langdon (a/k/a ‘the Alaskan Assassin’) went 11th overall in the ‘99 NBA draft. Three years later, he found his niche in Italy.

Even all-time media darling Christian Laettner (#3 overall in ‘92 draft) has unwittingly exposed the extent to which his collegiate success depended upon Coach K’s striped worshipers. Laettner’s career NBA numbers (12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) are reasonably respectable, even if accumulated while being traded more frequently than Krzyzewski’s hair dye schedule.

However, his career, which includes but a single All-Star game, falls far short of the greatness that hoops analysts projected on the basis of his golden boy college years. And does anyone seriously believe that the trend of pro duds will end with JJ Redick and Shavlick Randolph?

Compare the post-collegiate accomplishments of the following UNC grads from the same time period: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jameson, Vince Carter. The group has collected enough NBA rings, All-Star appearances, and MVP awards to fill the Dean Dome. Nevertheless, each of these players, with the possible exception of Worthy, who went pro before Krzyzewski was given his sainthood status, struggled against the one-sided neutralizing effect of the collegiate officials.

Even schools traditionally considered a tier below Duke have accomplished far greater NBA success than Duke. Consider Georgia Tech’s contributions during Coach K’s career: Mark Price, John Salley, Tom Hammonds, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Matt Geiger, Stephon Marbury, Matt Harpring, and Chris Bosh. Maryland has added Albert King, Buck Williams, Tony Massenburg, Walt Williams, Joe Smith, Steve Francis, and Juan Dixon, all from the Krzyzewski era and all of whom have enjoyed solid NBA careers. And even Steve Blake, by the way, is doing just fine in the NBA, averaging 8 points and 4 assists a game. Georgetown placed Ewing, Motumbo, Mourning, Iverson, Sleepy Floyd, Reggie Williams, David Wingate. Most of these successful pros were also considered inferior to their various Duke counterparts who are now heckled by foreign tongues.

Other absurd examples of the Duke flop’s bastardizing effect on the game abound. When I attended Duke, for example, the student body rejoiced as Christian Laettner actually got the better of a vaunted LSU center named Shaquille O’Neal. Two seasons earlier, Christian finished with better numbers than Alonzo Mourning. These unfathomable outcomes were all due to the manner with which the college official favors Duke above any other team.

One must wonder why college refs would show such transparent favoritism to a program of haughty whiners. Remember Phil Henderson’s publicized mid-season tirade about Lenny Wirtz? How about Krzyzewski’s tendency to hold mid-court tantrums, replete with profanity, any time his team falls behind in a game? Just last season, the man experienced a seemingly endless meltdown, which would have made any spoiled three year-old envious, as his team lost at home to Georgia Tech. Who could forget K’s classless screaming to refs ‘you killed us’ after his team’s 2004 semifinal loss to UConn. Or Matt Christiansen physically accosting a referee in the aftermath of an earlier Duke tournament loss, only to be recognized weeks later by Coach K as the player who most exemplifies Duke basketball. And still the refs treat these spoiled louts as if they were their own fair-haired children.

At any rate, it is because of the Duke players’ inability to adjust to the shock of objectively enforced rules that so many fail in the NBA, and in Europe (e.g., Casey Saunders’ cut by a Swedish team; Nate James canned in France), and quickly return – where else – to Duke to rejoin Coach K as an assistant coach. Any given year brings us a team of real world flops who take on the role of assistant coach. Currently, two of Duke’s more obnoxious alumni – Chris Collins and Steve Wojokowski – join Johnny Dawkins in this capacity. Others, such as Tommy Amaker, Quinn Snyder, David Henderson, have found homes as equally underachieving college head coaches. Note that the latter two were recently fired for their recurring futility.

The biggest mystery to all of this is why any high school standout would chose Duke in light of this history. There is simply no doubt that Duke players fail, routinely, in the NBA (and elsewhere) after graduation. This is not opinion; it is absolute, stone cold FACT. Still, year after year, Coach K lands three to five McDonald’s high school All-Americans, only to see the same players humiliate themselves in pro ranks. Truly, a high school All-American selecting Duke has to be the worst career move since Shelly Long left the cast of Cheers. The same is true for any pro scout who selects a Duke player in the NBA draft. And yet, sure as the day is long, some NBA team will make JJ Redick a lottery pick within the next six months.

– Chapter Six –