College hoops needs Coach K

Updated: July 5, 2004, 5:29 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Gary Williams isn't going to lie: He loves facing Coach K.

So, too, do Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Lute Olson and a bunch of other coaches.

The juices just wouldn't have flowed as much. It just wouldn't have been the same. This is good for our league and for college basketball.
Gary Williams,
Maryland coach

So, too, do opposing players.

That's why Krzyzewski's decision to stay at Duke, rejecting a reported five-year, $40 million deal from the Los Angeles Lakers, was celebrated across the sport on Monday.

The sport would have suffered had Coach K left for the NBA, as Stanford's Mike Montgomery did in May when he went to the Golden State Warriors for a monstrous payday and a new challenge. But while losing Montgomery was a hit, Krzyzewski's departure would have been a blow straight to the gut.

"The juices just wouldn't have flowed as much," Maryland's Gary Williams said of the prospect of facing a Duke team not run by his most-heated rival in Krzyzewski. "It just wouldn't have been the same. This is good for our league and for college basketball."

"He's the type of coach that a lot of people come to see," N.C. State's Herb Sendek said. "If he had gone, then it would have taken two of our stars and best statesmen."

Unlike the NBA, where the players rule, it's the coaches who dominate college basketball. And in an age when college coaches are under even more scrutiny for their off-court behavior, Krzyzewski has been one of the true good men. His charitable efforts within the extended Duke community have been well-documented. His presence has been felt throughout the larger Duke community, not just within the basketball program or athletic department.

That's why this decision wasn't just about money, although it was enough money for him to seriously consider leaving Duke. He is as entrenched in his school's community as any coach in the country, probably the most respected coach within a campus as illiustrated by his role as an advisor to the president. The only other coach who could come close recently was Homer Drew, who served in a similar capacity for a year when he was out of coaching at Valparaiso two seasons ago.

But Krzyzewski's legacy might have been tainted if he wasn't successful with the Lakers. Yes, Duke's court is named after him and he's already in the Hall of Fame. But losing in the NBA could have damaged his reputation on the court.

Williams said Michael Jordan's reputation in the Washington area is not the same since he came back to the Wizards and wasn't able to lead the team to the playoffs like he did in Chicago.

"He wouldn't have had the same aura," Williams said of Krzyzewski. "But what Mike has done at Duke in this era is remarkable. John Wooden wouldn't have won all those championships in this era because under today's standards; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton probably would have declared for the draft instead of gone to UCLA. Mike got to the Final Four last year with a team that wasn't one of his best. But he still got there."

But Williams said Krzyzewski's consideration of the offer makes a statement on its own. Losing Luol Deng after one season and Shaun Livingston before he ever got to Duke (he was the No. 4 pick in the draft by the L.A. Clippers) adds to Krzyzewski's frustration.

"If Mike can't keep a kid for two years or even get a kid for one, then who can?" Williams said.

Krzyzewski has long been one of the most outspoken voices in college basketball. He is expected to be front and center Wednesday in Indianapolis when the National Association of Basketball Coaches holds its annual meeting before the July evaluation period begins Thursday.

"He epitomizes everything that is good in our sport," NABC associate director Reggie Minton said. "We're thrilled he's still coaching in college. We need his voice. As we make our proposals (to the NCAA), he'll help us. This gives us even more credibility."

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak called Roy Williams, an assistant coach at North Carolina when he was a player, before making the call to Krzyzewski. They talked about Krzyzewski's interest before Kupchak called Krzyzewski. Williams knew he would be interested, but he wasn't sure if Coach K would take the job. He knew, however, that Krzyzewski had "enough class" to not let Kupchak fly to North Carolina if Krzyzewski wasn't serious.

Throughout the weekend, the Duke assistants weren't sure if they would have a job by midweek. By Saturday, the consensus was that they thought Krzyzewski would stay, but they weren't sure, even as late as Sunday night. Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, reached by phone on Monday, was relieved to know that Krzyzewski had decided to stay.

Had Krzyzewski left Duke, his departure to the NBA would have set off fireworks that wouldn't have been good for the sport. It would have signaled that the NBA had not only taken the youth of college basketball, but one of the most recognizable coaches, as well.

The sport would have continued without Krzyzewski and it certainly will whenever he retires.

But college hoops is too battered and bruised right now to withstand losing another high-profile name to the NBA.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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