Sunday, July 4, 2004

Coach K should stay right where he is

Gannett News Service

Aggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Not to worry. That's just a scream of panic, coming from Krzyzewskiville.

Are they leaping out of windows yet in Durham? Probably not. The Los Angeles Lakers, it would seem, want Mike Krzyzewski. But it is not clear whether Mike Krzyzewski wants the Lakers.

Whether he wants moody pros instead of cooperative Blue Devils. Hollywood limos instead of Cameron Crazies. The Spurs and Kings and Rockets instead of Clemson and Georgia Tech and the Great Alaska Shootout. Plus the Kobe Bryant trial.

No word yet if he is truly serious or if this is just a summer fling. Still, for the Duke faithful, it must be a terrifying notion, the thought of going into Chapel Hill without him. Last time Krzyzewski wasn't coaching the Blue Devils - during the leave of absence in 1995 for back surgery and exhaustion - Duke went 4-15.

"I'm optimistic. I have to be optimistic," athletic director Joe Alleva said at his press conference Thursday. Before, presumably, he went into his prayer vigil.

Maybe it's the Larry Brown thing that's gotten Krzyzewski interested. Brown became the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles.

How can Krzyzewski let a North Carolina guy get away with that?

True or not, the possibility is fascinating. And the first reaction: Why not?

He is 57, an age where an accomplished man's mind can wander. He has three championships. Enough for a lifetime. He can go to more Final Fours, maybe cut down more nets. It's a worn road.

Besides, recruiting is a pain. And Duke has the same problem as everybody else. Some players leave early, and some never come at all. The NBA wad of cash looks just as good to Krzyzewski's chosen few. It gets harder to maintain a college program every time the salary cap goes up.

It also would be intriguing to see if Krzyzewski would do better in the NBA than his players. He has had 18 first-round picks at Duke, but only Grant Hill has ever been all-NBA. Most had pale careers once they left Durham.

Oh, it'd be different all right, using Phil Jackson's old bathroom. Krzyzewski probably never has read a Zen book in his life. And he would have to deal with Bryant, either as the strong-willed star coach trying to direct a strong-willed star player, or an opponent trying to stop him.

But there is something about a new challenge. And though this is a crumbling empire, where Shaquille O'Neal already might be a memory and even the Laker Girls look older, it is a franchise with tradition and cash.

His salary probably wouldn't be bad, either.

So, he should go. Right?

Well . . . wrong.

The marriage has been splendid for decades. Not just the one to his wife - but the one to his game. No other active coach comes to mind who has a clearer sense of college basketball, what it should mean, and what a team needs to do to get to the front and stay there.

In San Antonio last spring, Krzyzewski talked of the look on the faces of each new wave of Dukies he brought to a Final Four.

"It's one of the reasons I've always stayed in college basketball, because there's a genuineness," he said. "It's priceless, just like kids and grandkids."

That sounds like a man born to coach college basketball. The Lakers, where he might lose as many games in a week as he did a lot of seasons, are of his sport, but not his world.

Easy for a guy in the cheap seats to say. But the answer here is no. If only to hear Krzyzewskiville exhale.


Mike Lopresti is a columnist for Gannett News Service.

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