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A pivotal rodeo for Krzyzewski

Having grown up in a rural, western town, I have seen my fair share of quality rodeos. This summer could be among the best as Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is now reaching the end of his rope, attempts to make what could be one of his final rides his best.

The summer of 2012 promises to be one of Krzyzewski’s most pivotal. As he endeavors to assemble a blockbuster 2013 recruiting class for Duke, he will also be busy with his other team—the U.S. national squad, which will spend the coming weeks preparing for the London Olympics.

The stakes are higher than ever. Even with Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and possibly Dwayne Wade out of commission, the U.S. is still heavily favored to bring home the gold medal for the second straight Olympics. The standards are no lower in Krzyzewski’s recruiting efforts, especially after he whiffed on top 2012 targets Shabazz Muhammad, Mitch McGary and Tony Parker and saw his 2012 NCAA Tournament end after one game.

Facing high expectations in Durham, Krzyzewski has targeted the top two players in’s class of 2013 rankings, forwards Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, and he will need to lasso at least one of those two if he hopes to call his efforts a success.

“It’s a significant summer,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. “[Parker and Randle] have both been prime targets for the better part of two years.”

A few weeks ago, Parker, a 6-foot-8 small forward, became just the sixth high school basketball player ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, where he appeared above a headline that named him “the best high school player since LeBron James.” Krzyzewski, who also hails from Parker’s hometown of Chicago, is fully entrenched in Parker’s recruitment.

“I think Jabari Parker is about as big of a priority as I’ve seen Mike Krzyzewski put on a kid in a long, long time,” Telep said just weeks after the Duke coaching staff arrived to Parker’s open gym last fall in a limo.

Although Parker has garnered more attention from the national media, Krzyzewski also traveled to Randle’s open gym in a limo last October, so the Dallas native hardly plays second fiddle. The 6-foot-9 and 230 pound lefty might be more of a need given the skill and tenacity he could bring to a Duke frontcourt that has not seen a true power forward or center garner first team All-ACC honors since Shelden Williams in 2006.

There is hope that the dry spell of a dominate post presence in Durham could end. The Blue Devils already have a commitment from Randle’s close friend and AAU teammate Matt Jones. Incoming Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, another native of the Lone Star state, has also been in Randle’s ear about having a “Texas connection” in Durham.

As Krzyzewski officially begins Olympic training in July, the races for Parker and Randle will follow suit. Parker is expected to name five to eight top suitors in July, and Randle will likely start narrowing his choices down soon after that.

Keeping Duke among the top of those players’ lists will be challenging for the Blue Devil coaching staff, though. While Krzyzewski and assistants Steve Wojciechowski and Chis Collins are with Team USA through July and August, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, Roy Williams and every other major head coach will be front and center to watch Parker and Randle during several evaluation periods in July. Perhaps more importantly, Parker and Randle will see Izzo, Self and Williams, among many other coaches, watching them. Kentucky head coach John Calipari, an obvious threat to Krzyzewski in both recruitments, could be the only other coach to miss the chance to watch Parker and Randle during July, if his Dominican Republic national team qualifies for the Olympics.

In Krzyzewski’s absence, Duke will lean on assistant coaches Jeff Capel and Nate James to recruit and evaluate for the Blue Devils through July.

Luckily for the Blue Devil coaching staff, the NCAA recently deregulated communication between coaches and recruits who have finished their sophomore year. Under the new rules, Krzyzewski and his assistants can now contact the Randle and Parker camps whenever they want to.

Needless to say, the year-round rodeo that recruiting has now become is not the same as it was 927 wins ago. Despite the seemingly favorable rule change, Krzyzewski has expressed some apprehension in utilizing limitless communication with prospects.

“I don’t know if there is a recruiting philosophy anymore,” Krzyzewski said.

What we do know is that it takes NBA talent to contend for NCAA national championships these days, and that means annually navigating high-profile recruitments to get top talent on campus. Of the past five national champions—Kentucky, Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas—the Blue Devils are the only one that did not feature at least one lottery pick on that championship team.

The program needs an injection of game-changing talent, and Parker and Randle meet all of the typical Duke prerequisites.

“I think in getting to know them, Mike Krzyzewski sees them as Duke-type guys,” Telep said. “Guys who are coachable yet talented, intelligent on and off the court and seem to have that winning gene.”

A commitment from either would instantly catapult Duke from Sweet 16 hopeful to early national title contenders in 2013-2014. As Krzyzewski’s illustrious career draws toward a potential close in the not-so-distant future, a fifth national championship banner could hinge on landing one of Parker or Randle.

Even though Krzyzewski has already won every prize possible in college basketball, he is still riding and still not satisfied. For now, until he puts his boots and chaps up for good, he is just tying a knot and hanging on tight.


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