The most amazing thing about Mike Krzyzewski, other than being the greatest college basketball coach of all time, is the way he has turned himself into the conscience of the sport while, at the same time, wading shoulder deep into the muck himself.
For example, he railed against the sin of the one-and-done player — schools bringing in a stud recruit for one year to prepare for the NBA rather than to get an education. Tsk, tsk, Krzyzewski moralized. Then he filled Duke with one-and-dones, won another national championship and said the realities of today’s kids made him do it — but that he still hates it.
See what he did there? He staked the high ground and then went low.
So he set people off this week when he asked about playing the season now, with COVID at its peak, while the country travels for the holidays. After two losses, including a beatdown from Illinois, Krzyzewski said: “I don’t think it feels right to anybody.’’
Kaboom! Social media exploded. So did Nate Oats who, you probably don’t know, is the head coach of Alabama. Oats said what a lot of people were tweeting, that Krzyzewski wouldn’t have said that if Duke had been winning. It’s true that if Krzyzewski thought it wasn’t safe, then he could have done something about it with his own team.
And here’s the thing: He did. Duke announced that it wasn’t going to play any more non-conference games this season. This is where money meets mouth. Krzyzewski was asking for leadership from the NCAA and, in the void of that, decided to do what he felt was right.
You can think he’s right about the dangers of the virus, or you can disagree. But Krzyzewski doesn’t deserve to be criticized this time. Sure, it’s bad timing to say something like that after his team got its butt kicked. But come on, he never said the season shouldn’t be played, as the quick-reactors claimed. He said it should be looked at, that it’s uncomfortable.
And it is.
“For the good of the game,’’ he said, “and for the good of the safety and mental and physical health of players and staff, we need to constantly look at this thing.’’
How can you even argue with that? At the same time CDC warned people about traveling, college basketball decided to start its season with a bang, traveling teams in a crisscross all over the country.
The season has been one cancellation after another. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Baylor? Canceled. DePaul hasn’t even been able to play a single game yet, and sometimes has only four people in practice.
This is actually about discourse. Disagree with Krzyzewski if you want, but don’t jump on him for honestly saying that he thinks we should look a little closer at this for people’s health and safety.
“Let me ask you something,’’ Oats said, when a TV person asked him what he thought of Krzyzewski’s comments. “Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost the two non-conference games at home that he’d still be saying that?’’
Probably not, the TV person said.
“OK,’’ Oats said. “I just wanted you to say it, not me.’’
Then he went on: “We 100 percent should be playing basketball. Humans aren’t made to sit alone in isolation for weeks and weeks on end. We’ve got to be careful about how we do life, but you’ve still got to do life.
“A huge part of life for all these guys I’m coaching is being in the gym playing basketball. So I think their mental health is in a much better spot playing basketball. . .so, no, I don’t agree with them at all.’’
In case we’ve all forgotten, this is called a “discussion.’’
Some people, including Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino, have wondered aloud if the season should be pushed back after the holiday traveling season into, say, February. And then have it run through May.
“There are these vaccines that are coming out, that people say by the end of the month, 20 million vaccine shots will be given to our healthcare (workers),” Krzyzewski said. “And by the end of January or February, another 100 million.’’
Nobody is calling for the season to be canceled. The NCAA would have a hard time surviving if it lost the money from a second-straight NCAA Tournament.
What would the players (students?) do if the season were suspended for six weeks now? Go home and spread the disease, rather than be alone on campuses? Is there really nothing in between traveling around the country to play games and sitting alone in isolation?
I’d hold things off until Feb. 1 or so. But there really might not be a right answer as the sport tries to figure out the best way to creep forward to get to the NCAA Tournament payday.
At this point, though, Krzyzewski is just asking for a discussion rather than steamrolling ahead. That’s an interesting concept.