Exclusive Interview with Coach K: Day 2

This is the second of four clips from an exclusive June 15  interview with Mike Krzyzewski that The Chronicle will post this week (the rest will come at 8 a.m. every day). In this excerpt, Coach K gives insight into the recruiting process, and talks about what style of basketball Duke's leaders, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, will play this year. If you missed Part 1, click here.

On recruiting:

TC: Without Gerald Henderson, this team is missing its most athletic player, but one benefit of this year with or without G is that you will have a real senior class, which hasn’t happened since [2005]. In 2006, there were no seniors on the team, 2007, only DeMarcus, and in 2008, Greg alone. What will that camaraderie between this year’s seniors bring to the team?

K: Well, the more experience you have the better you are in college basketball. Just look at the NBA Playoffs—the Lakers were just a really experienced basketball team. In international ball, same thing. But in college, the difference between playing juniors and seniors, and freshmen, is huge. There is a lot more fluctuation in college basketball over the last decade, more than any sport. We are a sport onto ourselves, primarily because you can’t have a guy for three years. It is much more individualized than any other sport—well, tennis, but you know. In football, you could recruit four quarterbacks in one year, and that is accepted, but we couldn’t recruit four shooting guards.

TC: So how do you go about recruiting then?

K: By being honest, by representing your school the right way. Recruiting goes on all the time, but the environment of recruiting continually changes, so what we have to do is adjust but also maintain what we are supposed to maintain here, and those are our high standards. For our guys, for a private institution to have done what we’ve done—at the end of this year, we’ll end up being the program that has won more games than any program in a decade. Obviously, a lot of good things have happened, and we have to continue to be in pursuit of those good things while always remembering how we were doing them.

In the current state of recruiting, there are more bumps in the road. There are different things that happen in recruiting—not specifically for [Kenny Boynton or John Wall]—it’s not so much illegal, that you can travel down there or you don’t. There are promises, hirings, all those things, so we are always going to try to navigate those the way Duke would want us to.

TC: Had you been through something like the John Wall recruiting process before?

K: I’ve been through pretty much everything—I’ve been in it for 35 years—but I’m not going to talk about any specific person’s recruitment. But the thing that happens in recruiting or in coaching is that nothing every surprises you. Nothing. You should expect that anything can happen, and that’s what makes college basketball a little different. There’s not a strong base in college basketball. There are a lot of things—it is an uneasy environment in college basketball, and we are influenced by what the NBA does, as we have been by the “19 years old and one year in college” rule. That has an influence on our game. Some of it is good, and some of it is not real good. I personally believe that we are going to keep seeing more of the things that are not good.

TC: What kind of things?

K: The erosion of the team that athletics and academics have formed on campus over the years—not just on ours, but on everyone’s. You shouldn’t have a rule that forces somebody to do something you don’t need to do. Three of the guys on my Olympic team [Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwight Howard,] didn’t go to college, and they shouldn’t have gone to college. I know a lot of people who own businesses who didn’t graduate from college. And a precedent had been set for over 20 years that you didn’t have to do that. So then why was this rule put in? Well, it’s not an NCAA rule. It’s an NBA thing. And so there is a business reason—whether you are bringing somebody in so you can use the NCAA marketing machine, the name recognition, see kids for another year, or whatever. What I hope over time is that people look at what is good for basketball. It would have been wrong for Lebron James to go to college. Part of it is that a kid like that is in a culture—it’s not a bad culture—but it is a culture that leads to the pros, not to college. You take that culture—it’s not illegal, or maybe it could be a little bit, or whatever. But it is more business oriented, and now you are asking kids who are in that—and it’s not a lot of kids. It’s the elite, and you are bringing that into college. It doesn’t fit.

TC: So what do you think of somebody like Brandon Jennings, going to play in Europe for a year instead of college?

K: I am surprised more kids don’t—well, if it continues to be this way. My thing is, let them go out of high school, and if you want to set criteria, you have to be a projected first-round pick. Where you’re projected and where you actually go could be 15 kids. All of those kids would be drafted, even if it’s not in the first round. They fit a profile—their arm length, athletic ability, size, whatever it is. But if they don’t leave out of high school, they have to be at your school for two years.

In our country, basketball is academic based. You have high school teams, college teams. It’s the school—we are here because of Duke. In every other country, those kids are on club teams, they are influenced by older people and there is a normal progression. Here, there is no normal progression, and that’s why iHoops was started. But a kid shouldn’t come into Duke, even if he’s here for one year, and not take courses that you take. Even if they don’t know a major, they should take core courses that fulfill core requirements, and if they are here long enough, take courses that fill major requirements. Do you feel that that’s done?

TC: Not with all athletes, definitely not. I had a class two years ago with Jon Scheyer and Josh McRoberts, and Jon kept coming to class after basketball season ended but Josh wasn’t there that often. [McRoberts declared for the NBA Draft after the 2006 season.]

K: See, that’s not right. He might not have flunked that—I have no clue—but what I’m saying is, that’s not right. If we are going to use this system called ‘college’, then we’re here. I don’t think everybody needs to graduate from college. One of my best friends runs Activision, World of Warcraft, etc., and he left Michigan after his sophomore year.

Not everyone has to graduate, but while they are in the academic institution, they need to be part of it. Otherwise, that’s not right. That’s what I believe, and that’s what we’ve tried to do starting our 30th year [at Duke]. I also think that for basketball, it’s the right thing, and I think there’s more of a movement now that that rule is not good.

I think the rule was done as the fifth or sixth thing—do you know where that rule comes from? From the negotiation of the NBA Players Union and the NBA. We’re not discussing one book—it’s on the table, but it’s the fifth or sixth book. The main book that’s on the table for them all the time is revenue sharing.

TC: The biggest issue for them is certainly not the age of kids coming into the league.

K: But that rule, then, is what we follow. Somehow I wish we could figure that out better for the good of basketball.

TC: Have you had to change your coaching and recruiting styles because of rules like that?

K: Sure. Before that, there were probably six, 10, or however many kids that we would not have even started recruiting because you know your business well enough to know who is involved anyway. It would be a real upset if that kid went to college, so you can’t then spend time and resources on that. Now we have to look at some of those kids, and some of the things that are selling points for our school are not as big selling points. Like if you are looking for one year, sometimes you might not want to go to a harder academic school. Believe me, I’m not knocking Duke, but…

TC: Sure, a kid has to have some courage to come here.

K: Right. And then they are hit hard with [the academics]. For the next year, you just want to play basketball and take the minimum, but Duke’s not going to let you do that.

It’s not us not being current or whatever—I’m pretty current since I just coached the best players in the world—but it’s just different. The other thing is you are going to have to compete against [those players if you don’t get them], whereas before you didn’t have to.

On Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer's roles next year:

TC: How do this year’s recruits fit in? Duke fans haven’t really seen them outside of the 3-point contest and the dunk contest.

K: It’ll be very interesting and I’m very excited about it because we are going to be real big—I mean real big. Our style has to give us a chance to run, play defense, use bigness, and how do we do that? It’s not just the incoming guys. Like Brian [Zoubek] hasn’t been hurt for a year, and that’s a big thing. I think Brian’s pretty good, but you can’t play with a shank in your shoe or break your foot every four months, so it’s been tough for him, but he’s doing great right now.

Miles is 15 to 20 pounds heavier right now, and he’s a very good athlete. Mason is very talented, and Ryan Kelly too. We have four big guys, and we need to have a system that uses them.

TC: So what is that system?

K: Well, we’re figuring it out. You won’t figure it out completely until you work with them out on the court, but they all want to be good. Obviously you would think you’d be able to rebound better, and there shouldn’t be as many inside shots against you. You’re probably not going to be a pressing team, but you can still run and they have to touch the ball. A thing we haven’t had in a few years is inside-outside action.

TC: Sure, it’s been mostly along the perimeter.

K: Well, it’s what you’ve got. We’ve won 80 games in the last three years, 58 in the last two, trying to figure it out. However, it would be neat to have that and people who can score inside, and we believe we have people who can score. What that does to a defense is it makes it go in and out, and that’s where the relocation pass, the cuts come.

TC: I’ve played the top spot on a zone for years and gotten burned by that move many times.

K: Right. So I’m excited about it. It also means we’re going to be big on the perimeter, where Kyle [Singler] will probably be all perimeter.

TC: Offense and defense?

K: Yeah. He will be like the 3 man.

TC: OK. People have been talking for two years now about Kyle banging more down low, but you think the opposite this year?

K: I know the opposite. That’s his future too, and he is going to be an NBA player. That makes us real big. How do we handle the ball? We can’t be turning it over. Obviously Jon is huge for that, but so are Nolan and Elliot. We believe those four kids have a lot of experience.

What Elliot did last year was remarkable. He really turned our team around. We would have ended up in the low 20s in wins, would not have won the ACC championship, and there is a chance of not making the NCAAs because anything can happen. What he did was put us in contention. We won the ACC Tournament, we were a really good seed. We didn’t play well against Villanova, but we had a chance, and we had a chance to win an NCAA championship.

Carolina was the best team, and they were really experienced, but the two times we played them—especially the time there—if we shoot a little bit better we had a chance to beat them.

I know if we have a chance to win or not. We definitely had a good shot at winning there, and our guys had a good demeanor. I loved my team last year. They were easy to coach, but the infusion of Elliot got us to another level. I am excited about it, it’s just going to be really different and we’re going to be big. We haven’t been big for a long time.

TC: So you see Jon as the point guard?

K: Yeah, and we won’t have a traditional point. There will be more movement, motion offense, where it’s not one guy setting up a play, and you can hit, cut through, and no one’s the point. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever call a play, but that’s sort of what Jon did the last 12 games. He averaged like one turnover a game, his scoring average went up, and we played better. Jon is the natural leader of this team. Jon’s terrific, one of the best kids in the world.

TC: Has he been one of the team leaders since he got here?

K: Jon is a really easy guy to play with, but he has a great heart for the game. He wants to know about the game, and he’s really a good teammate and friend. He has had a great career. Even his freshman year, when we were so young and inexperienced, those guys learned a lot and won 22 games. Jon is going into his senior year having been a part of 80 wins. That’s a lot of wins. Now he needs to use that experience to have an edge. It’s as simple as that.


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