Focus on the right issues

It happened again.

The same way as always, every year, around this time.

No, I'm not talking about the fact that Duke lost, perhaps a round earlier than everyone thought it would. Instead, it's the evaluation-and in many cases, condemnation-of the Duke program in the aftermath of such a loss that grinds my gears.

In my four years at the University, I have heard the same dialogue four times. Mike Krzyzewski can't coach. Greg Paulus should have stuck with football. Krzyzewski can't recruit. The Blue Devils need more athletes. Duke deserves this because its coach criticized the president.

The last one is new this year. Such criticism from their coach would have been the lone bright spot for the Blue Devils in years past, I assume.

We can dispel the first critique. Anyone who has won three national championships can coach-at least a little. Billy Donovan, though, is seriously testing the theory with two titles.

Unfortunately, fans won't be able to fall back on the Paulus complaints anymore with the senior graduating. But now that I think about it, that's unlikely to change much of that rhetoric, either.

The idea that Krzyzewski can't recruit, however, goes hand-in-hand with the notion that Duke needs more athletes on its roster, and it is this argument that frames most rational discussion about the state of the program.

The common criticism is this: Krzyzewski is unwilling to go after potential one-and-done recruits, and as a result, the Blue Devils have fallen behind those that do.

I see two flaws with this argument. First, Krzyzewski does go after a lot of potential one-and-dones: guys such as Greg Monroe, Brandan Wright and now, John Wall.

More important to me, however, is the belief that one-and-done players are all of a sudden essential to contending for a national title. One need only look at the teams still playing in Eliot's cruelest month to infer that maybe the Greg Odens and Derrick Roses of the world were the aberrations.

Of the 20 players who will start in the Final Four, exactly two-Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Michigan State's Delvon Roe-are freshmen. Walker's starting because Jerome Dyson is hurt, and on a list of "Reasons Michigan State made the Final Four," Roe would rank somewhere in the 20s, behind things like, "God wanted to give Michigan a break" and "Terrence Williams felt like replicating Gerald Henderson's performance in Boston."

North Carolina, Walker's Huskies and their Big East compadres from Villanova-the team that so dissected Duke Thursday night-aren't about youth, or even about stars. In fact, they're built a lot like the Blue Devil teams of yore, with juniors and seniors that have grown and matured since they arrived on campus.

If Dyson weren't injured, three of the Final Four teams would start exclusively upperclassmen. And that's exactly what Duke's roster will look like next year if Gerald Henderson returns and Nolan Smith re-enters the starting five.

One-and-dones, on the other hand, are quick fixes to the foundation that require constant buttressing. Memphis was able to replace Rose with Tyreke Evans, which worked until the Tigers really needed a point guard. Ohio State, on the other hand, will now try to replace its third consecutive one-and-done center with B.J. Mullens opting to take his nine points and five rebounds to the next level (read: NBDL).

The point is, you need to find a new one each year, and talents like Rose and Oden come around once every few seasons, if at all.

So maybe the focus shouldn't be on changing what players Duke recruits as much as it should be on landing-and keeping-the guys it does go after. That should be made easier now, if only by Krzyzewski dropping lines like, "And this reminds me of this one time, when me, LeBron and Kobe..." or "No, it's fine if you don't want to come here. You can talk to Greg Monroe and Patrick Patterson and ask them how much fun the NIT is."

Maybe it even comes down to Krzyzewski stealing a page from Roy Williams' book and upping the minutes he affords his freshmen, if only to let them know they're wanted.

From that point on, the dialogue can shift more appropriately from off-the-court issues to more pressing on-the-court ones, such as why the Blue Devils' role players haven't progressed as much as those of their rivals down the road.

After all, it will be less tenable for fans to blame Greg Paulus next year. Even though they will anyway.


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