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The short list to replace Wojciechowski on the Duke bench

Tyler Thornton's leadership could make him a candidate to fill the void left by Steve Wojciechowski on the Duke sideline.
Tyler Thornton's leadership could make him a candidate to fill the void left by Steve Wojciechowski on the Duke sideline.

Like I imagine every basketball-obsessed Duke senior did, I checked the Duke eRecruiting website when I heard Steve Wojciechowski was taking the head coaching job at Marquette. Unfortunately I found no listing to apply for his job, so my unmatched experience—middle school point guard, high school varsity basketball manager, collegiate basketball writer—will go overlooked.

Unable to apply for the position, I’ve done the next best thing and compiled a comprehensive list of suggestions for potential assistant coaches on Coach K’s staff. The natural move may be promoting special assistant Jon Scheyer, so some of these candidates would replace him in that role. Other candidates are older and would provide a more veteran presence on the staff, joining Jeff Capel and Nate James as the assistants.

So unless something new pops up on eRecruiting before graduation, here would be my short list:

Tyler Thornton — A graduating senior, Thornton could probably skip eRecruiting if he wanted to express an interest in a position on the staff. The savvy point guard has said he wants to try playing professionally before looking into coaching, and some time away can always be beneficial. But Coach K has said numerous times Thornton’s communicative abilities made him like another coach on the court, adding that he and Thornton share common qualities. Wojo only played a year professionally before returning to Duke… Why not get the learning process started sooner?

Brian Zoubek — For much of his time as an assistant at Duke, Wojo worked with the team’s post players. How about replacing him with a real big man who he helped develop into the centerpiece of a national championship team? More importantly, though, this could allow Zoubek to relaunch his Dream Puffz cream puff shop in Durham. If Jabari Parker takes his Jabari Bars with him to the NBA next year, why not bring back the greatest snack of them all? Plus Zoubek is smart, well-spoken and knows basketball—that’s probably worth mentioning too.

Greg Paulus — Could Duke lure Paulus away from his assistant coaching gig at Ohio State? Who knows, but Paulus is the best candidate to put someone on the staff who inspires an immense level of Duke hate. Wojo frustrated countless opposing guards with his tough defense and floor slapping. Paulus’ career wasn’t quite as illustrious as Wojo’s—Paulus was benched in favor of Nolan Smith in his senior year—but his peskiness on the court could help replace some of the same energy Wojo brought.

Jay Williams — Already a Duke legend, Williams’ No. 22 hangs from the Cameron’s rafters. Since his NBA career was cut short due to a motorcycle accident, he has found a successful career as a college basketball analyst on ESPN. He has already been rumored as a potential candidate for the job, so the question is: Does it make sense for both parties? If Williams were actually interested in coaching, returning to Duke would be the logical step. It’s not unprecedented, either, as Hubert Davis left ESPN a couple years ago to become an assistant at North Carolina, his alma mater. But does he want that? Williams is a celebrity, and the glamour (not to mention salary) would be reduced as an assistant. Moreover, would he make sense for Duke? Williams is a big personality and would add instant star power to Duke’s bench, so the question is if that’s what Coach K is looking for.

Jay Bilas — Like J-Will, Bilas is an ESPN star. Unlike Williams, he has experience as an assistant, working on Krzyzewski’s staff while he earned his law degree from 1990-92. How did Duke do during those three seasons? Three national championship game appearances, winning the title in ’91 and ’92. Sure there were those Christian Laettner and Grant Hill guys… but Bilas had to be the key, right? As a Duke assistant, Bilas might have to tone down his NCAA trolling in order to avoid unwanted distractions for the program. Or would he? If he were constantly challenging the NCAA’s treatment of student-athletes from within, that would only make Coach K’s press conferences even more entertaining.

Shane Battier — No Wojo, no Josh Hairston… somebody needs to teach future Duke teams how to take a charge. Now a grizzled veteran in the NBA, Battier has said it would take an “act of God” for him not to retire at the end of this season. He is still an elite defender in the NBA for the back-to-back champion Miami Heat, and few can match his smarts. Would he really want to become a coach, though? Like Grant Hill, someone with Battier’s charisma will have no shortage of career options, whether that’s on a coaching bench, an NBA front office, the broadcast booth or elsewhere. With that skill set, he’d be awfully tough to say no to, if he were interested.

Me — Just kidding. Kind of. Call me maybe?


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