Mike Krzyzewski got himself into hot water late last week after Oregon trucked Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. After taking the loss, Coach K told the Ducks' Dillon Brooks that he's too good to be "showing off" like that. (Brooks had committed the crime of firing up a half-court shot as the shot clock was winding down at the end of the game instead of taking the violation.)
Brooks, when asked, told the media what Krzyzewski said to him. When asked about the incident, Coach K lied, saying he told Brooks nothing of the sort. The audio proving Brooks correct came the next day. When faced with evidence that he was full of it, Krzyzewski offered an apology to the Oregon coach, but claimed he just answered the media's question inaccurately, even though it's plainly clear he flat-out lied.
In a wide view, this is a minor thing. Coach K got a little sanctimonious in defeat and thought he could twist his way out of it. He couldn't and got caught. It would have been nice had he not criticized Brooks in the first place, or if he'd owned up to it in the press conference. Best of all, it would be have been refreshing if he came fully clean when caught in the lie and apologized for embarrassing his program. That'd set a nice example.
But hypocrisy in coaching, especially college coaching, where the participants take on self-appointed father roles? This is not out of the ordinary. While Coach K was busy being fake classy, his rival John Calipari was busy being fake cool.
The NCAA passed an exceedingly generous rule change allowing underclassmen to test the waters until mid-May and retain eligibility, so long as they don't receive improper gifts from agents, runners, teams and the like. In recent years, players had to withdraw their names from draft consideration by mid-April to preserve NCAA eligibility. That meant that basically no one truly tested the waters as NBA teams aren't working out underclass prospects until May in most cases.
Coach Cal has been the king of exploiting the NBA age minimum. He built his Kentucky program around landing one-and-done stars, using them and losing them. He has, in fact, built a pipeline of such stars, and uses his success in luring players who leave for the NBA after one season into a grand recruiting pitch. That campaign culminated in Calipari's 2014 book Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out.
The thesis of the book is that the players' interests and needs are at the center of Cal's coaching philosophy and program. Cal teaches them how to play a pro-style game, is painfully honest with them (even if it hurts him to be!) and helps them understand how to give back to the world. In other words, Calipari gives five-star recruits what they need so that they will give him what he needs, which is one semester of classes and four months of wins.
So, when the NCAA debuted its new draft deadline this year, in the best interest of his players, Calipari announced that the entire Wildcats squad would be declaring for the draft, even the walk-ons. Laughs were had. The 12th man can go to the NBA Draft Combine! Only at Kentucky! He must really care about his players if he's pushing them all -- even the non-NBA prospects -- to get evaluated by NBA scouts. Just add it to Coach Cal's "players first" narrative: he's willing to turn over his entire team if the NBA wants everyone.
In actuality, what Cal is doing is totally self-serving. First, he's wasting everyone's time. NBA scouts aren't interested in prospects who played a couple dozen minutes for a squad that washed out in the tournament's first weekend. Second, he's bending the rule to its breaking point. You see, the NCAA rule change didn't just alter the deadline for dropping out of draft consideration. It also expanded the number of hours college players can work out with college coaching staffs during the spring period, provided those players are invited to the combine. The upshot is that players who do test the waters are more likely to stay on campus, under Calipari's watch, thus boosting the number of eyes on Lexington.
Before the rule changes, a sure one-and-done prospect who declared at the end of the season would sign with an agent and go to Vegas, Santa Monica or one of the other common NBA prep locales to get ready for the combine and individual workouts. Now Calipari can invite them to hold court in Lexington, where they'll have their entire college team around for workouts and scrimmages. In doing so, Calipari brings the NBA world to him. Those walk-ons aren't getting invited to the combine, so they won't be granted extra practice time with Cal and his staff. It's all a show.
Meanwhile, Calipari has long advocated for a higher NBA age minimum, like most of his contemporaries. There's nothing "players first" about requiring prospects to play for free for two years. In addition, there's also little that's "players first" about escaping a program before rules violations hurt future players and vacate Final Fours, as Calipari did at UMass and Memphis.
You can't say that about Coach K, at least. He's just a sore loser. Calipari's counterfeit philosophy is more nefarious than some whispered sanctimony.
In both cases, though, it'd be refreshing if the coaches would just own who they are: highly successful, highly selfish millionaires making money off selling dreams and playing time to teenagers. Stop pretending there's a higher morality to it.
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