Mike Krzyzewski insisted Thursday that, no, coaching Team USA does not give him a recruiting advantage.
This is, of course, ridiculous.
But here is a list of things that also give Mike Krzyzewski a recruiting advantage: 957 wins, 12 ACC regular season titles, 11 Final Fours and four national championships. He has had 45 former players selected in the NBA draft, and remarkably, some of those picks took place before he agreed to take a side job coaching some of the best basketball players in the universe.
In addition, an SI.com investigation shows there are 150 players listed in the Rivals.com Top 150 recruiting rankings for the Class of 2014, and Duke has not signed all of them.
We’re scrambling to the far side of absurd with all of this, overthinking the fact that just about everyone is right, and that’s OK. It all began with a strong column on Monday by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who wrote that Team USA had become too much of a Duke infomercial, that Coach K had unfair access to the younger players in the national team system, and that it was increasingly not worth it for the NBA to risk its best players in such an enterprise, especially given the gruesome leg injury suffered by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George on Aug. 1 in preparation for the FIBA World Cup that concluded last week with a predictable gold medal for Team USA.
This motif rested on a tee for Krzyzewski to swing at on Thursday, during a news conference back on Duke’s campus.
“Everybody can have an opinion on that," Krzyzewski told reporters. "Anybody who wins … [has] an advantage. It's advantage through accomplishment. The notoriety you get from that, there's a risk to that. In other words, you can lose, and there's time you give up. The fact that you win and if you gain an advantage from that, then so be it. It's like if someone wins a national championship. [Connecticut coach] Kevin Ollie has an advantage recruiting because he won.”
This was more than a bit disingenuous, though predictably so, and easily dismissed. No reasonable person can observe a major college coach spending months in the spotlight, hip-to-hip with a bunch of NBA players idolized by high school prospects and conclude: Well, it’s only going to matter if he wins.
The more relevant point is that Krzyzewski doesn’t have to defend himself. Of course it’s a recruiting advantage. It might not necessarily close the deal on every recruit Duke pursues, but it helps. And so what? Invite any college coach in the country to assume Team USA duties for Krzyzewski, and the next outgoing call from his office will be to maintenance, to fix the hole in the wall that the coach ran through to take the job.
Meanwhile, if there are any NBA personnel who are miffed at the dynamic surrounding Team USA, they don’t have to defend themselves, either. They’re entitled to that perspective and it’s justifiable. This is a lot about Coach K. It is seemingly unnecessary to for these multi-million dollar players to gamble their careers for medals, especially those players who are getting along in their careers.
So bring in an NBA guy to be the new coach. Or rotate the coach, at the risk of harming continuity. Wojnarowski’s column suggested international play will become an under-22 proposition after the 2016 Summer Olympics. Super. If you’re peeved with Team USA as coached by Mike Krzyzewski, then change Team USA as coached by Mike Krzyzewski. That’s absolutely the prerogative of the people who employ him in this endeavor.
In the meantime, it is highly likely that Duke will sign good high school basketball players anyway, because that is what Duke has done for years, in no small part due to the aura of the man coaching the team. Included among this year’s incoming haul of multiple McDonald’s All-Americans is consensus No. 1 overall prospect Jahlil Okafor, but it’s the college choice of another McDonald’s All-American from Illinois who I think about here.
Jon Scheyer was a McDonald's and Parade All-American. He went on to score more than 2,000 points for the Blue Devils and now serves an assistant coach on Krzyzewski’s staff. As with any recruiting battle, there were multiple suitors to the end. Yet it seemed clear that the idea of playing for Duke had captured Scheyer years before his final college decision, and that no other schools really stood a chance as a result.
That’s a Duke dynamic. That’s a Krzyzewski dynamic. That happened before the Team USA era and presumably will happen, to one degree or another, after it.
Absolutely, coaching Team USA affords Mike Krzyzewski a recruiting advantage. He just doesn’t need it so bad that it’s worth arguing about.