Duke basketball: Criticism toward Coach K does the trick

Duke basketball (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball family, which includes fans, has been hard on itself of late; yet as the patriarch’s actions made clear last time out, the inner conflict is paying off, whether he admits it or not.

I’ve questioned it. I’ve come into Cameron Indoor Stadium. I’ve looked up in the ceiling. What I’ve found out is that, as a staunch enthusiast, I should never stop questioning the coaching of Duke basketball’s Mike Krzyzewski — even when he suggests I should.

The same goes for all those whose “overreacting” brand of fandom requires such expressions of strong opinions. It doesn’t mean you think you’d do a better job than the legend in charge. It doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to celebrate just as much as the morally superior pom-pom loyalists when the squad does turn things around.

Besides, more times than not, our collective criticism — warranted or not — does the trick.

I’m thrilled Krzyzewski evidently caught wind of folks’ fault-finding from the stretch of three losses in four games (all to then-unranked opponents). In case you somehow missed what the 73-year-old said, wait, I’m getting there.

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First, I’m also thrilled he obviously took pieces of the harsh advice to heart, leading to the emphatic 88-69 revenge win at home over North Carolina State on Monday night, which moved the Blue Devils to 24-6 overall and 14-5 in the ACC as they get set to wrap up the regular season by hosting North Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).

Look, the three keys to No. 12 Duke’s success against the Wolfpack were exactly what Coach K’s most critical supporters were asking for the most:

  1. Coach K was on his feet, engaged in every moment, and his blazer came off during the second half, resulting in his team outscoring the Tobacco Road foe by 17 the rest of the way; after the buzzer, he high-fived the very Cameron Crazies who infamously tested his temper four weeks prior.
  2. Coach K subbed in Justin Robinson — the 11th man who is suddenly looking like an ideal sixth man — for Javin DeLaurier with 11 minutes remaining in the first half to spark the effort to turn a five-point deficit into a two-point halftime lead; the fifth-year Duke basketball senior finished his 14 minutes of action with 10 points, a 4-for-5 clip from the field, a 2-for-2 clip from downtown, six total boards, four offensive rebounds, one assist, one block, and zero turnovers.
  3. Coach K devised a solution to the recent defensive woes in the paint, implementing a zone in the second half that stymied the Wolfpack attack, and encouraged lacking-of-late fastbreak play.

At the same time, though, I do admit that, following his 1,083rd victory since arriving in Durham 40 years ago, Coach K’s most publicized comment today — as the ACC Network transcribed for the never-satisfied Duke basketball Twitter — came across as defensive and smug. Of course, I also admit that I remember why I like him so much whenever he comes across exactly this way:

"“I mean, you can question my coaching and what the hell — and then when you do question it, by the way, just come into Cameron and look up in the ceiling, and then find out if you should question that. But don’t do anything with our players. Just support ’em.”"

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Listen, as passionate followers of the supreme modern-day program, we are naturally going to look up to the heaven-on-earth rafters and question why there aren’t seven or eight or even more of the “One Shining Moment” banners we adore so much — you know, rather than still only five. In other words, the GOAT’s past greatness has spoiled us but also made us realize if we demand its return whenever it happens to disappear for a spell, it is sure to eventually reappear.

And in order to amply support the players, as Coach K requested, we are going to question their energy any time they lose as a result of exhibiting next to none. We’re going to treat them like adults, like strong-willed guys who can take the heat, like players who opted to be both in the limelight and under the microscope by joining the Duke basketball program.

In other words, I’m never content. Neither, I hope, are you, Coach K, nor the team. Neither are most winners, of which a large bulk are Blue Devils, like me and you and the staff and the players, who can all be hard on one another across social media and within message boards ultimately because we all impatiently strive for the same thing: breathtaking Duke basketball beauty.

So I beg you to criticize me for writing this or any article containing criticism toward anyone. Even if your grammar and spelling are garbage, I beg you to tell me where I went wrong. I beg you to tell me I need to retire every time I express a thought that infuriates you, embarrasses Duke basketball, or makes no sense. I’m begging myself to start pointing out more of all your flaws as well.

After all, thirty years ago, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, who essentially stayed at each other’s throat across three seasons as Duke basketball teammates and only seemed to like one another while cutting nets, began showing me as a kid what it takes to forge a superior team: healthy disagreements within.

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Yes, I beg us all to just keep this a loud, demanding, critical, honest, back-and-forth, hated, envied, corrigible Duke basketball family for as long as we can. That way, we can all have at least some chance to figure out how we can continue enjoying the best product in all the land long after Coach K decides he has had enough of us and our incessant cries for constant perfection.

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Thus far, my fellow Dukies, job well done. Let’s keep it up, at least this week, you know, so that we can ensure our shared #GTHC dreams come true.

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