Weighing In: Duke and the FIBA World Championships

Sometimes at Crazie-Talk we get together to discuss a hot story in the Duke-i-verse that merits some serious thought. Once on Coach K’s choice to return to Team USA back in ’09, and once, more recently, when the Blue Devils were turning their swag to 11 en route to the 2010 National Championship.

Today, Jake and Amogh discuss two Duke storylines through the lens of international (read: European) hoops and the veritable Brawl of Basketball: The FIBA World Championships. Enjoy.

Pocius had the floor on his senior night in 2009, but he didn't see much playing time on it in four injury-riddled years. (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

On Marty Pocius Being More Successful in Europe

The Lithuanian basketball team rode on the back of a familiar player to the FIBA Final Four.

Martynas Pocius, who played at Duke from 2005 to 2009, has been the firebrand that sparked his country’s team to unexpected heights in basketball’s biggest international event. Today, Pocius faces off against his former coach, Mike Krzyzewski, and the loaded young USA team.

Pocius (pronounced “Poat-zoos” for some reason) had a terrific reputation coming out of prep school in New Hampshire: scoring prowess, incredible leaping ability, and a pair of impeccable calves that soon caught one sweater loving coach’s attention during several ESPN broadcasts. Perhaps Coach Rick will invite Marty stateside for Duke’s game against Saint Louis this December 11. You know, to massage those spectacular calves.

Yet despite all the hype and sweet musculature, Marty never lived up to his 5-star rating at Duke. Or perhaps more accurately, Marty was never dealt the right cards.

The first factor in Pocius’ lukewarm career was injury. Ankle problems limited his effectiveness for two years, culminating in a medical redshirt in 2007-2008. In his fourth academic year, Pocius was technically active, but saw scant minutes off the bench in a Sweet Sixteen season. He decided to forgo his fifth year of eligibility to play professionally—back home in Lithuania. More on that later.

Compounding Pocius’ inconsistent health was (go figure) Duke’s tremendous guard depth. Over his career, Marty was buried in the depth chart behind a formidable group: DeMarcus Nelson, Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams. When healthy, fans attributed Marty’s pineriding to a lack of defensive skills and penchant for fouling (not an uncommon criticism for European players, after all). The truth is, if you miss practice at Duke (injured or not), it’s hard to crack the starting lineup. Coach K is pretty consistent on that. It’s even harder if, as in Marty’s case, you have three to five NBA-level guards on your team. Not everyone can play on bad ankles. Not everyone is Brett Favre.

It’s fitting that Pocius’ best performance—14 points on 5-5 shooting in 17 minutes—came in one of the darkest moments of the past decade: Duke’s first round ACC Tournament exit to NC State in 2007. And unlike last year, the team didn’t learn from losing to the lowly Wolfpack—they went ahead and lost to VCU. Even when he won, his team lost.

But enough with the negativity.

One year removed from his Duke career, Marty is thriving in what is clearly his natural habitat—EuroBasket. He averaged 8.1 points per game in sixteen games this past season with BC Zalgiris in Kaunas, Lithuania, a city just 102 kilometers away from Marty’s native Vilnius. (Editor’s Note: Vilnius factors largely in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, a book I’m about to finish. Oh, how FIBA brings it all together…)

In the World Championships, Marty has scored 61 points in 128 minutes of action, acting as a key reserve for a Lithuanian squad that has largely exceeded expectations. In Lithuania’s huge “upset” over (soon to be former) world number one Argentina, Pocius was scintillating: 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting (including two treys) and 4 rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. Stick it, Luis Scola.

While players mature mentally and physically at different stages in their careers, one can’t help but wonder what Marty could’ve accomplished at Duke if he had been injury-free. Or, on a more extraneous note, had he attended a University whose calling card wasn’t tough, American style guard play, he certainly would have played more (again, barring injuries).

(Jonathan Givony of anti-predictive NBA draft site DraftExpress started a tweet war the other day claiming that Coach K had wasted Pocius, before finally admitting that he had never seen Marty play a minute in college. So, all’s well that ends…idiotically?)

Disregarding the woulda coulda shouldas, when this story bottoms out, it’s redemptive and happy. By proving himself in international basketball, Marty also proved he belonged at Duke.

We wish Marty the very best with his career in Europe. As he faces his former mentor tomorrow against Team USA, we anticipate a big performance under the bright lights and fiery eyes of his opponent’s coach.

And just like against the Wolfpack in ’07, we hope he loses. Sorry, bro.

UPDATE: Marty got the start against the United States today, and showed well: 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. However, Kevin Durant was unstoppable, setting an American record with 38 points, and Team USA got the 89-74 victory. Congrats to Marty on a great tournament, he certainly turned a lot of heads. And I know Majerus watched every minute scrupulously.

You can follow Marty’s entertaining Twitter here: @LTUMarty.

Coach K PO'd some media folk the other day, but not these ones. They seem cool. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The Briefly Noted Saga of Coach K vs. the Israeli-American coach of Russia/Former USSR

OK, OK. I know we’re late to this party. Team USA’s already avenged 1972 beaten Russia in the FIBA quarterfinals. Doug Collins is still righteously pissed off even if his new star in Philly, Andre Iguodala, was part of the “B-deem team” that took out the Bear Nation.

Even if the Russians are not the Soviets (because in Soviet Russia, ball dunk you) and the Cold War is twenty years past, the officiating catastrophe in the 1972 gold medal game between the U.S. and USSR still infuriates a lot of people.

Coach K, a veteran of West Point and former Army Captain, is one of those people.

I’m about 50% tempted to give Coach a mulligan on his faux-pas in calling David Blatt, an American and Israeli citizen, a “Russian” and being offended by Blatt’s innocuous belief that the USSR was the rightful winner of the ’72 game. Only fifty percent because only that much of it was wrong, or even mildly offensive.

Since K has established himself as one of the top coaches in the sport, he hasn’t needed to be a firebrand in the media like he used to be (after all, he ‘loves Dean Smith’ these days). I was surprised by these comments not only because of their inflammatory nature—it should’ve been easy for some assistant to tell the acting American basketball ambassador that Blatt was, in fact, an American (somebody hire Reggie Love). It just seemed out of character for K to be so unsavvy with the press.

But, as any Mad Men fan has learned from Roger Sterling‘s feud with “the Japs,” military allegiances run deep. And although K stated that Blatt’s comments had “absolutely” no effect on his game preparation, I have a feeling this whole thing fired up the old soldier in K, even after he realized his mistake on Blatt’s nationality.

After the game, Coach K sheepishly praised Blatt. He knew he was wrong. The game went over without controversy. The right team won. All good, right?

Not for Adrian Wojnarowski, it wasn’t.

WTF, Woj?

Wojnarowski, a reporter for Yahoo! Sports, originally reported Blatt’s gracious response on this issue. He then went on to write a livid, flamethrowing piece on K’s behavior, calling the comments a “desperate stunt” to motivate his players while “in [a] haste to exploit that old American gash” of the ’72 game.

He goes on to say that K’s “low-rent” actions were an attempt to rile up American public hatred of the Soviets. To Wojnarowski, this somehow proves that K has no faith in his own team. So apparently, not only is K a old fogey bigot, but he’s not even patriotic enough to believe his own team could win. Huh?

I don’t think a doctoral thesis could legitimize that kind of harsh claim, and Wojnarowski certainly does not. Not to mention Woj’s offering of an irrelevant opinion on whether the ’72 squad should have accepted their medals: “This 38-year blood war with that loss has gone on long enough,” and the team should accept their medals graciously. Yeah, I’m sure they haven’t heard that before.

Wojnarowski pulls a low-rent stunt of his own, bringing up the murder of Israeli athletes at the ’72 games as a counterpoint to the “ache for the ages” that the loss to the Soviets was. Dude, what does that have do with Coach K?

The venomous article is a lot to extrapolate from a few off-color comments from a man who led Team USA back to the same gold medal stand that his friends and colleagues were denied in 1972. I understand that Wojnarowski is paid to take such polarized positions, and considering his normally solid work, I was surprised by this sudden take-off on Air Gregg Doyel.

K certainly made a mistake. But not the kinds of mistakes that Wojnarowski claims. I’m tempted to say Kiss the Medals, but Team USA still has Lithuania to take care of.

Crazie-Talk thanks you for reading this article, if you’ve gotten this far. Be sure to keep tabs on two big games at noon EST: Duke Football’s showdown with Wake Forest, and of course, the United States-Lithuania semi-final match.

Go Blue Devils, and Go America.

Deviled Eggs: September 6th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie-Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best.

Kyle Singler should be back in full form before Countdown to Craziness. Will he earn his place in the rafters this year? (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

1. Surprise! Kyle Singler recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery

The reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player had an extremely busy summer. Among his many activities, #12 played for the U.S. Select Team in Vegas and New York, hosted a basketball camp for kids in his native Oregon, and competed against much shorter dudes—and future UNC opponents—at Chris Paul’s guards camp. Thus, it’s no wonder that he wasn’t 100% after working hard through the season that saw many hoopsters chilling at home. Wojo had this to say, quoted from the GoDuke.com article:

“Kyle had some discomfort in his knee following a very busy summer so we elected to go in and clean it up prior to the start of the season…By all accounts, today’s surgery was a success and Kyle will be back at full strength before the start of practice.”

Singler is the noted Iron Man of our team—how many bruises and black eyes has he been dealt in his career? A little knee surgery most likely won’t slow his roll too much, and I’m pleased that Kyle, the staff and the medical team decided to “clean it up” sooner rather than later. I don’t want anything derailing his campaign for National Player of the Year.

2. College Park 5-0 prepares for next year’s Duke “celebration”

One of the best games in the ACC last year was Duke-Maryland in College Park (ESPN’s Steve Levy’s hilariously unsubtle remark in that highlight: “Me? I’m like everybody else. I’m going to find [UMd. alumnus Scott] van Pelt at Bentley’s or something like that…”) Greivis Vasquez went crazy on his senior night, and I grudgingly gave him respect. Maryland forced Duke’s hand to tie them at the top of the conference standings against UNC, which happily resulted in 82-50. And we didn’t lose again. Maryland got their national championship, we got ours. Fun for all, right?

Well, Maryland students celebrated by taking it to their own town and pissing off some power-tripping crazy policemen. In response to this perennial mess, this coming year the authorities are trying to tame the celebration after a potential victory over Duke. That amounts to two new protocol: hosing down dumpsters to prevent fires and trying to keep glass bottles of the streets. I guess it’s a start. Something tells me that after years of acting the fool, Maryland students will try their damndest to destroy and burn things after Duke games, win or lose. And considering Vasquez is finally gone and Duke’s bench is better than the remnants in College Park, expect the latter this year. Hopefully the cops will avoid beating another happy-go-lucky student so I can go back to being absolutely pitiless for the pitiful Terps.

Anyway, kudos to the Maryland police for trying to control the bunch of wackos who go to school there. Nothing this recession-riddled economy needs more than its state-funded students destroying their own state-funded institution, right?

(Bonus: In Googling around about Maryland fans, I found a hilarious post celebrating Duke’s ’08 win in College Park. Enjoy.)

3, 4. BallisLife puts out Quinn Cook, Austin Rivers mixtapes

There seems to be an abundance of amazing high school hoops mixtape artists these days. Thank jeebus for those YouTubes, right?

One of our favorites, BallisLife.com, recently compiled highlights of two of Duke’s 2011 guard prospects: Crazie-Talk’s most wanted, Austin Rivers, and the next great Oak Hill Academy (and Blue Devil?) point guard, Quinn Cook. Both had dynamite summers and are surefire five star recruits. Enjoy the highlights.

Sidenote: Cook injured his knee in the recent Elite 24 event, and we’re happy to hear that his recovery—which was previously estimated to knock him out for the entire high school season—should only take 4-5 weeks. We wish him luck and hope to see him lead Oak Hill back to the promised land. That’d sure make his godbrother Nolan Smith happy.

5. Duke football starts off on a good note

Before I leave the U.S. for a semester in rainy Dublin, I wanted to check out Duke’s opening football game against the not-awful Elon Phoenix this weekend. And I wasn’t disappointed with our 41-27 victory in packed-to-the-brim Wallace Wade Stadium. What used to be a groan-inducing program is firmly on the upswing, and I can’t wait to see what the messianic Cutcliffe builds in coming seasons. Especially if our quarterback Sean Renfree keeps on putting up these ridiculous numbers.

However, it might be good to be out of the country so I don’t have to witness what Alabama will do to us in a few weeks. As an unnamed friend who works for the football team told me, “they could score on every play if they wanted to.” Yikes. Go Duke!

6. Do-it-all Dave Bradley writes book on the championship

Dave Bradley, the genius behind DukeBluePlanet.com (which, you may have noticed, kindly allows us to use his stellar photos), has written Worthy Champions, a book celebrating last year’s run to the title. In addition to being a great guy, Dave has unprecedented access to the team. If you already follow DBP, you know this from his fantastic interviews, videos, blog posts, etc. It’s truly in a class of its own in terms of the websites of college basketball programs.

The book will be out later this week, so be sure to follow Dave on Twitter for all the details. It will likely be available at the physical Duke store and on their website. If you spring for one more piece of championship memorabilia, this should be it.

UPDATE: The book is now available at the physical Duke bookstore and through their website. Enjoy!

Bonus: Top 50 NCAA Dunks of All Time.

From Dime Magazine, a video of 50 ridiculous college hoops dunks. Grant Hill checks in at #42, and Dahntay Jones’ pushup dunk at Virginia at #7. ACC love abounds; among others, Vince Carter, Stackhouse, Georgia Tech’s Isma’il Muhammad and Miami’s DeQuan Jones all make the cut. Check the whole video out below:

If it had been a top 100, I bet this poster by Gerald Henderson would have qualified.

Thanks for your continued support of Crazie-Talk. If you want to give us a shout-out or a shout-down, feel free to do it on Twitter, Facebook, or by e-mailing us (email@crazie-talk.com). Tally-ho!

ACC Hoops Schedule Released…Go Get 'Em

Thank you sir, may I have another? (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The Atlantic Coast Conference finally released the 2010-11 men’s basketball schedule today on their official website. And for those of you bored by our conference’s football offerings before the season has even begun, this is big news.

The ACC brass are stoked that the conference will be on television a record 182 times this upcoming year. Fans of the Big East and other power conferences complain that the ACC gets preferential treatment despite being a “weak” league. Right, a conference that has won five of the last ten natty champers is pitiful.

Here are some of the highlights of what promises to be another exciting year in ACC basketball. As the season draws closer, we will be back with full team previews. But for now, check out five of the best non-conference matchups before the New Year.

NOVEMBER 15: Miami at Memphis

Young Memphis Tigers coach Josh Pastner breathed a big sigh of relief when the best recruit of his short tenure, Will Barton, was declared eligible on August 20. I’m really impressed with what Pastner has been able to do in Calipari’s stead (how much he “learned” from the former Memphis coach remains to be seen). Miami’s sparkplug Durand Scott nearly beat Duke by himself in last year’s ACC Tournament, and young big man Reggie Johnson will fill in nicely for departing beast Dwayne Collins, who finally graduated. Look for Memphis to come out on top on sheer talent, but I’m impressed that Frank Haith has the cojones to schedule this type of game.

DECEMBER 1: Duke v. Michigan State

This game continues to lose its luster, as the Spartan guards are dropping like flies. First it was the transfer of Chris Allen to Iowa State after being kicked off the team in East Lansing. More recently, the twenty-year-old Korie Lucious, hero of the Maryland game, was caught over the legal limit while driving. Tom Izzo is probably my second favorite NCAA coach, mostly because he doesn’t put up with stuff like this. Lucious will likely be suspended for the first half of the season at the least. That leaves more of the burden on Kalin Lucas, who is rehabbing his torn ACL, and 2010 Big Dance star Durrell Summers. Yet this will be billed as the best game of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Look for Kyrie Irving to get after it against Lucas—a player to whom he has been compared in the past. I had hoped Duke would face MSU at full strength; nonetheless, Izzo is a gamer and this could be the highlight of Duke’s early season schedule.

DECEMBER 1: Virginia Tech vs. Purdue

Perhaps this is the year that Virginia Tech lives up to expectations. Many pundits think it’s a battle for second place in the conference between the Hokies and the Heels. Much of that advance praise for VT rests on do-it-all guard Malcolm Delaney, who wisely chose to return for his final year. Meanwhile, Purdue returns everyone but hard nosed point guard Chris Kramer. Pat Forde even put them ahead of Duke in his preseason rankings (but he has a hard time with such predictions). This would be a statement game for Seth Greenberg’s program—which returns everyone—and until I see Robbie Hummel play as well as he did pre-torn ACL, I think the Hokies have a good shot. Just don’t let Jeff Allen loose on JaJuan Johnson…that won’t end well.

DECEMBER 4: North Carolina vs. Kentucky

In a battle of the teams I hate the most, UNC and UK face off yet again in this home and home series. Recently, ESPN’s sometimes knowledgeable college hoops blogger Eamon Brennan stated that UK has a slight edge in this matchup. It’s tough to say. Both teams have the same problem: a lack of proven size. Kentucky’s frontline is thin: 6’8” frosh Terrence Jones, Florida transfer Eloy Vargas, and perhaps Turkish semi-pro Enes Kanter, if he is ruled eligible. UNC has the sometimes healthy Tyler Zeller, the “wet noodle” John Henson, and Mr. Barnes, who’s supposed to be a guard anyway. I think the game hinges on Kanter’s eligibility. If he plays, he will be too much to handle down low, and combined with UK’s superior guard play led by Brandon Knight, I think Kentucky squeezes this one out. Look for UNC’s season to be a reverse of last year’s: a slow start with a more productive second half.

DECEMBER 4: N.C. State at Syracuse

The ‘Cuse shocked a lot of people last year by reaching #1, but that’s mostly because people weren’t familiar with Wes Johnson and/or didn’t have respect for the Orange’s experience. Now most of that depth is gone, and for once in his life, Sidney Lowe has something to be excited about in Raleigh. All the hype has been loaded on CJ Leslie, but we think incoming point guard Ryan Harrow will determine State’s success as much as anyone. The frontcourt favors the ‘Cuse (remember the name Fab Melo), but the Wolfpack have an early chance to prove that they belong in the same breath as Duke and UNC for the first time since, I don’t know…Julius Hodge?


Look for our ACC Rundowns as the season draws closer. And be sure to follow us on Twitter.