Mike Krzyzewski may be the best college coach that ever lived. He has one of the most decorated coaching careers in NCAA history and has sent countless players to the National Basketball Association, however he has halted just as many NBA careers as he has developed. And, the 50+ players that Krzyzewski sent to the NBA have all floundered at the next level with the exception of a handful of athletes. Coach K has a history of stunting his players growth for the sake of his program. High school All-Americans go into the Duke University basketball program as college freshman and assistant coaches come out in four years. All-State athletes go in and accountants come out. No college defense is as stifling as Krzyzewski’s coaching. He takes promising athletes and forces them into a style of play that serves his legacy and is not necessarily conducive to perfecting their craft. The way that Coach K treats his players, his reliance on his system, and the lack of teaching individual basketball positional fundamentals all contribute to the mediocre pros that come out of Duke University under his tutelage.
To properly address the deficit between the talent of Coach Krzyzewski’s players and the end result of those student athletes, one first has to begin with the man himself. Though he has a public persona of a genuinely affable and intelligent man who seems both gracious and humbled by his position, Coach K can be brutish and self-serving in regards to his players. No one and nothing comes before the Duke program even when highlighting a particular player could possibly help both the school and the player. Coach Krzyzewski has a long history of riding his players relentlessly regardless of how talented they are, and a significant amount of kids who play at the university never learn to play basketball because of the way that he approaches them. He does not know how to talk to people, or he does not care. The unsavory language that he uses with his players, the students, and the media at Duke show Krzyzewski’s disinterest in cultivating a nurturing atmosphere at the college even though he is charged with guiding the lives and careers of young men, being a role model to a community, and being the face of the university. Coach Krzyzewski often berates and belittles those closest to him. Taylor King, a former Duke Blue Devil was rumored to have thought that his name was ‘motherfucker’ during his freshman campaign at Duke according to reports of people close to the team. Krzyzewski challenged King daily and showered him with F-bombs throughout practice. Following his freshman year, he left Duke, and thrived on the court at Villanova University under coach Jay Wright. Krzyzewski bullies both his players and anyone else who draws his ire. Coach K has numerous public incidents where he spoke inappropriately to staff, students, or the media. He reportedly cursed at the mother of William Avery, one of his former players, when Avery decided to declare early for the NBA draft. And, some of his profanity laced tirades are well-documented, including but not limited to this gem aimed at the Duke student body newspaper when they gave his team a B+ midseason rating:
“I just wonder where your mindset is that you don’t appreciate the kids in this locker room. I’m not looking for puff pieces or anything like that, but you’re whacked out and you don’t appreciate what the fuck is going on and it pisses me off—I’m suggesting that if you want to appreciate what’s going on—get your head out of your ass and start looking out for what’s actually happening.”
Krzyzewski also publicly called the report “full of shit”, and according to some of the student reporters, the 15 minute speech was full of scatological and anatomical references.
His vulgar and disrespectful antics do not stop there. Krzyzewski’s sideline rants at his players and the referees during games spew just as much vitriol as does his treatment of the team behind closed doors. Dewey Burke, a former rival guard of the Blue Devils at nearby UNC, says that the reputation of Coach K being difficult and emasculating towards his players is well-deserved.
“His mouth is terrible. He has that reputation. You don’t want kids sitting behind the bench, that’s for sure. It takes a certain kind of player to deal with that over the course of four years. As players sitting around, yeah, we’ll talk about how I don’t know how I could play for a guy like that.”
Mike Krzyzewski alienates most of his players at some point in their careers because of the way that he constantly berates the team. The athletes who can adjust to his gruff scowls and the numerous expletives that are going to be hurled at them over the course of their college careers will excel if they have superior athletic ability and an undying devotion to being demeaned by their superior. Others like Taylor King and William Avery left as soon as the opportunity presented itself despite their athletic gifts. Coach Krzyzewski marginalizes the talent of his players by failing to connect with them. His harsh treatment of student athletes halts the success of a significant number of his players.
And, the players who are capable of adjusting to the harsh treatment that Coach K imparts on his team still have to be able to adjust to the way that he wants them to play. Krzyzewski’s system hinders as many of his players as his lack of verbal restraint does. He built a basketball dynasty at Duke University through his reliance on three point shots and man-to-man defense, but his reluctance to embrace a different style of play when he has a talent base of different skills often results in the under-utilization of that talent. Players who can not pattern their games to his preferred style of play languish on the bench regardless of their natural abilities. Coach K preaches man-to-man defense and deep shooting while disregarding what type of game that the level of athleticism and the skill sets of his players dictate that the team should play. NBA talents like Nate James and Brian Zoubek were relegated to the pine until their senior years because they did not fit Krzyzewski’s vision of what his team should be. James was an inconsistent shooter and Zoubek was incapable of locking up his man one-on-one, however when they were put on the floor in 2001 and 2010 respectively, both players became the most valuable player of their squads because they were uniquely talented. James slashed to the rim from the wing and used a streaky jump shot from fifteen feet to score the basketball when he was cutoff from penetrating. Krzyzewski gave him limited minutes prior to his senior season in 2001, because the coach prefers sharpshooting players who play within the offense. The prototypical Krzyzewski small forward is a cerebral, physically gifted 3 point shooter, who can penetrate and find short jumpers in open space like Shane Battier, James’ teammate and another one of Krzyzewki’s former players. But, James was an athlete who created his own shots with his dribble. And honestly, he was better when plays broke down than he was within the confines of the offense. He was more primal in his approach than calculated, and he was effective. His only saving grace at Duke was that Coach K literally had no established shooting guard talent on his team, and he had to trust James to lead the way for the team. James won a national championship in 2001 as team captain and entered the NBA after a great season, but how much better could he have been if Krzyzewski tailored his offense to fit the player’s strengths earlier in his career and developed his skills? Krzyzewski’s refusal to tweak his offensive philosophy hurt his team and almost derailed Nate James’ career. Brian Zoubek faced a similar situation at Duke. He was given very few minutes on the basketball court before his last season in Durham primarily because he did not fit one of Coach K’s basketball ideals for a post player. Zoubek was a lumbering big man who had few offensive weapons outside of 12 feet from the rim. Krzyzewski prefers to run his offense through big men who spread defenses out with deep shots and score efficiently with a polished post game. Fortunately for Zoubek, the coach had no other options under the rim, so he had to play more minutes at center in his senior campaign. Zoubek’s tough rebounding and put backs, his aggressiveness on the block, and his overall play inside the paint pushed Duke to unexpected heights that season. Zoubek only had modest career averages of 4.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game at Duke despite being an All-American in high school, but in his senior year of college, he upped those averages to 5.6 points and 7.7 boards. When the NCAA tournament arrived, Zoubek averaged a double-double in points and rebounds even though he never averaged ten points and ten rebounds during his entire college career. Krzyzewski was forced to give him more minutes in the tournament because he was the only rebounder on the team, and he flourished in his role. In a down year for Duke, Zoubek led them to a national championship because he finally received the playing time that he needed to be effective. Either Krzyzewski can not recognize the talent on his teams or he ignores talented players who do not fit his scheme. Those are the cases of two players who were successful at Duke despite Coach K. Several other players never fully blossomed at the university because they were stifled by Krzyzewski’s system. In two lackluster seasons at Duke, Billy McCaffrey averaged about 19 minutes minutes per game and scored 9 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in competitive play. He was an effective player at Duke, but he did not get the opportunity to be a main contributor. Ultimately, McCaffrey chose to transfer to Vanderbilt University because he felt underutilized. Over the course of two years at Vandy, the same guy averaged 20 points, almost four assists and three rebounds per game. McCaffrey was a star that never shone under Coach K. Similarly, Elliot Williams, an athletic combination guard played for Duke during the 2008-2009 season. Under Mike Krzyzewski, Williams averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 16.6 minutes. After his freshman season, Williams transferred to the University of Memphis due to his mother’s failing health. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play basketball immediately due to his specific circumstances, and the 6’4″ guard averaged 17.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in his first and only season there. Williams was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, where he was selected with the 22nd overall pick. Had he stayed at Duke, his dream of playing in the NBA might have never been realized. He was forced to stand on the perimeter and shoot threes in Durham which was not his strength. Krzyzewski should have used his athleticism in the open court rather than bogging him down in half court sets. The coach is inflexible. Consequently, Duke University endured multiple transfers in 2013 because of his failure to use all his talent. All-Americans Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy are the latest to leave Durham because of the lack of minutes, but many more may be on the way out. Krzyzewski has 5 McDonald’s All-Americans who average less than ten minutes per game and 4 of them average less than two points per game. Both Miles and Mason Plumlee (former Dukies) struggled to get consistent minutes under Coach K at Duke, but they are both starting for NBA squads this year. The youngest Plumlee, Marshall, is glued to bench in Durham right now, averaging 8 minutes, 1.3 points, and 2.2 rebounds per game. He was considered the most talented of the three by most basketball analysts before he got to Duke. Krzyzewski’s coaching style only caters to a specific type of athlete, and all other players get left behind with their talent unrealized. Coach K kills basketball dreams because he will not adapt his preferred style of play to accommodate his talent.
But, the biggest way that Mike Krzyzewski stops the professional basketball careers of his players is by failing to develop their talent. Krzyzewski does not teach fundamental basketball skills to his players, so most of his players never grow beyond the skill level that they acquired prior to their arrival at Duke. Basketball players do not get better under his tutelage, they just get more acclimated to his system. If an athlete’s skill set matches what Coach K wants from his players, then they play more and ultimately become the focus of his offense. Guys like Jayson Williams and Jabari Parker fitted the mold of a Krzyzewski coached team, so they had successful careers at Duke. Jayson Williams led his his team from the moment that he stepped on campus as a freshman. He was a quick point guard who had great ball-handling skills and a good outside shot, Coach K’s favorite type of player. By his second year, he was the star of a team that was led by seniors and future NBA stars. Jabari Parker fit the role of a Krzyzewski player too. He was a polished, athletic wing who could make the three or use a few dribbles to take short jumpers. He starred in his freshman year at Duke and led the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding (the only freshman to ever do so) because he fit the mold of a classic Krzyzewski player. But, Williams and Parker came to Duke as highly skilled, above average athletes. Most college athletes do not enter college with both the natural gifts and a skill set that is developed enough to play in the pros. The average college athlete needs his game cultivated by a patient mentor to succeed at any university or at the next level. Coach Krzyzewski only gives his players a larger platform to be seen. He does not teach them the game of basketball. College guards may not need ball handling clinics in every practice, but they do need to be counseled on when to shoot and when to pass the basketball. The point guards who have trouble with shot selection at Duke University are benched no matter how talented they are. College wings come into universities as shooters who can not dribble or slashers who have trouble shooting the basketball. Krzyzewski allows both types of players minutes in his system, however only elite shooters or spectacular athletes are recruited to the school at the wing position. So, he never has to develop his swing man’s skills, he only has to tweak their decisions on the court. And, the Duke posts have been neglected and mishandled. No one shows them the finer points of rebounding, the importance of positioning, and advanced footwork. Until he landed a head coaching gig at Marquette this season, Steve Wojohowieski, a 5’7″ former point guard for Duke, was teaching the post players at Duke how to play. Consequently, some of the more hyped prep stars never dominate at Duke. As a starter at Duke, DeMarcus Nelson, a former All-American, only averaged 14.1 points per game in his junior year and 14.5 in his senior year. Throughout his college career, Chris Duhon averaged 7.2, 8.9, 9.2, and 10.0 points per game as a Blue Devil. There was no measurable progress in his entire career. Jon Scheyer scored 18.2 points per game as a senior, however he only shot above 40% from the field once in his college career, his sophomore year. Shelden Williams upped his scoring every year, but he never learned the nuances of post play so he failed once the level of athleticism was equal in the NBA. And, Kyle Singler entered Durham with a hefty 13.3 scoring average, but the difference between his next three years were negligible. He scored 17 points grabbed 7 rebounds, and handed out two assists for the next three years as Duke. These are respectable college statistics for any player, but in every case there was no significant growth for any of these kids as basketball players. Each of these young men came to Coach Krzyzewski with talent and a dream, and he used their abilities to fuel the Coach K legend instead of helping them to hone their craft.
By and large, the best basketball players to come out of Duke are guys who did not stay under Krzyzewski for very long. Corey Maggette, Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, and Jabari Parker all left after their first year. Maggette averaged 20+ points over the course of several seasons in the NBA, Irving and Deng are NBA All-Stars, and Parker will likely be a good pro (Irving only played a total of 8 games in college). Elton Brand and Jayson Williams left in their sophomore years. Jayson Williams started what seemed to be a good NBA career before it was derailed by a motorcycle injury, and Brand is a former All-Star who regularly averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in the NBA when he was healthy. The less time players spend in Durham, the better they seem to be in the National Basketball Association.
Do not be bamboozled by the propaganda machine behind Duke Basketball. Mike Krzyzewski is not the wholesome, affable coach that he is portrayed to be by the national media. Krzyzewski is a bullying, self-serving coach who is willing to solidify his legend in the NCAA at the expense of hundreds of athletic careers. Attending Duke University for four years will get an athlete more exposure, and the brief stint there could possibly get a student athlete a Final Four ring, but for most basketball players, attending Duke University ensures that they will sit on the bench despite being fairly talented or skilled, and that their potential will never be realized. Mike Krzyzewski kills careers.