April 9, 2015

In what was a marvelous final game of the college basketball season, Duke edged Wisconsin 68-63 for the national title Monday night. It’s Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fifth national title, which, deservedly so, brought an onslaught of discussion regarding his position on the mantle of greatest college coaches.

For my money, he’s No. 2 behind the “Wizard of Westwood” John Wooden, firmly entrenched as the greatest coach of the post-Wooden era. But I felt that way before Monday night and that wasn’t the part of the conversation I was interested in. No, what fascinated me, was the way Coach K was lauded for his ability to adjust to the new age of college basketball to win this most recent title.

The new era, of course, is referring to the one-and-done climate that has manifested itself in the last decade due to an NBA rule change that doesn’t allow kids to enter the draft straight out of high school.

The narrative is that Krzyzewski, a coach of old-school ilk, has somehow managed to spread his wings and fly in this brave new world of college basketball, one rife with dirty recruiting, agents, shoe deals and selfish players obsessed with their own ambitions of making it to the league. He used to win with hard-nosed, four-year players like Christian Laettner, Steve “Wojo” Wojciechowski, Shane Battier and even J.J. Redick and now he’s done it with a group of freshmen who scored 60 of Duke’s 68 points in the title game. Two of those freshmen, Jahill Okafor and Justise Winslow, are most certainly headed to this year’s NBA draft and both could be selected in the top five. Tyus Jones, who won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award, could very well join them as a one-and-done.

Then there’s Kentucky coach John Calipari. You know, the one who doesn’t respect the college game and imports a new crop of one-and-done players every year? There’s three likely one-and-done players on this year’s Wildcats team, which was upset by Wisconsin in the semifinals to end their run at a historic 40-0 season.

Calipari won his lone title in 2012 with the very same formula that Coach K just won his fifth, with a dominant big man (Anthony Davis) and a slew of other one-and-done’s supplemented with a couple important upperclassmen.

So why is one perceived as slimy while the other is revered for his ability to adapt to the modern game?

From what I can surmise, there’s a myriad of reasons, but there are a few that seem to take the cake. For one, Calipari’s look is straight out of Wolf of Wall Street. His interviews and press conferences fit that image, as he speaks more like a businessman than a basketball coach. Ultimately, though, it’s his checkered past. He’s the only coach in NCAA history to have trips to the Final Four vacated at two different schools; UMass and Memphis. Take all that into consideration and factor in his incredible success (.781 winning percentage) at every stop and he’s become the poster boy for the one-and-done era. But just like Coach K, his players love him; both past and present.

The truth is, every coach, except maybe Bo Ryan, who oddly seemed to chastise the “rent-a-player” approach after the title game, would take a player whose so talented he will be able to leave for the best basketball league in the world just one year after graduating high school. Experience and camaraderie is nice and all, but ultimately you need NBA-level talent to win a national championship and that’s what every college coach covets. If it happens to come in the form of an 18 year old who will only be at his program one season, so be it.

Some coaches are better at acquiring the services of such talents than others. Yet, only one seems to be painted with a much darker brush than the others for being the best at it.