FIBA Final Will Be Like Duke-Butler on Steroids

Coach K’s teams have a knack for getting in situations where, if victorious, everyone in the stadium will hate them.

If their team wins tomorrow, Turkish fans might just burn this off the map in celebration.

In April, his Blue Devils faced off against Indianapolis hometown heroes Butler in Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium. 90% of the stadium was rooting for Butler, and probably 95% of the nation joined in (hey, Duke hate produces great ratings). I was at the game. The collective groan when Gordon Hayward‘s shot clanged off the rim was cavernous and sad.

We can apply the same principle to the United States-Turkey game tomorrow in Istanbul, the host nation’s largest city. But multiply it by a factor of ten thousand.

I mean, Turkey has history. Istanbul used to be Constantinople, seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. And their culture has welcomed roundball wholeheartedly. They’ve got serious baggage with another traditional European hoops power, Greece, among other rivals. I’d even venture that basketball is becoming their national sports pastime, replacing soccer much the way football is replacing baseball in the U.S. Even if Turkey’s national basketball prowess is rooted in a 70’s American TV series, they’re nothing to screw around with.

In tomorrow’s gold medal game, the U.S. teams finds itself in a familiar position, but not in a familiar locale. Everyone knows that Europeans take their sports a little more seriously than Americans do. As Pete Thamel of the New York Times tweeted earlier today, there is no atmosphere in American athletics that will compare to tomorrow’s exhibition of national pride in Turkey. In Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dom, in the streets, in distant cities of this very large country—there will be riots, fights, hospitalizations, win or lose.

After the national title win over Butler, I ran around the stadium screaming Duke cheers and waving my shirt in the air. American fans in Istanbul, be advised. Don’t do that. If the reaction to Turkey’s dramatic win over Serbia in today’s semi-final is any indication, you’ll want to get out fast, preferably in an armored car.

USA fans watching from anywhere but Turkey will cheer on The Durantula and Co. as they face off with a seasoned squad led by Hedo Turkoglu. The Turks also featured Carlos Boozer’s new Chicago Bulls teammate Omer Asik, who will be an excellent NBA center.

I won’t be surprised by any result tomorrow—a blowout by either team is completely possible, depending on who’s more psyched out by the undoubtedly insane game atmosphere. It’s youth and talent vs. experience and home country advantage. It should be a great game.

Let’s go, America.

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: August 9th, 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:

1. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler to train with Team USA

After impressing Team USA coaches with the Select Team, Smith and Singler are a part of a group of 10 college players who will be in New York to train with USA basketball. Team USA has an upcoming “friendly” with France, who will be playing without Tony Parker at the World Basketball Championship, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

2. Greg Paulus joins Navy basketball staff

Navy has a basketball team? I must have missed that. All jokes aside, congrats to the former Duke captain on his breakthrough into coaching. After a unsuccessful NFL tryout with the New Orleans Saints, Paulus will contribute to the Midshipmen this upcoming season.

3. Duke to play Marquette in early season tournament, possibly Kansas State

Having won early season tournaments in three consecutive years, Duke will head to the CBE Classic semifinals in Kansas City against a familiar foe: Marquette. In fact, the Golden Eagles beat the Blue Devils in the championship of the 2006 CBE. Should Duke avenge that loss, they will probably face Kansas State in what is likely to be a tasty Top 5 showdown.

4. Nolan keeping things in perspective

As loaded as the Blue Devils will be in 2010-2011, co-captain Nolan Smith has not let what “could be” go to his head. Sigh, I guess 40-0 really won’t happen. He recaps some of the losses the team suffered through last year and how it molded them into a championship squad.

5. Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly win NC Pro-Am, Nolan named MVP

Dawkins and Kelly were part of the team, Team D1 Sports, that beat Team Hendrick in the final of the Pro-Am. It’s great to see the sophomores get more and more experience, especially Ryan, who will most certainly be given rotational minutes this season. Nolan scored 36, 43 and 28 points in three games. Getting all this playing experience so close to basketball season will certainly help the Blue Devils.

6. Coach K has some tough decisions to make before Turkey

With his team short on big men, Coach K will certainly have to take an excess of guards to Istanbul and the FIBA World Championships. Needing to make three cuts to finalize the roster to 12, Stephen Curry, brother of Seth, and Eric Gordon will be under the microscope as shooting specialists. Curry, 22, and Gordon, 21, are both young and lack international experience, like many on the team, but will certainly provide shooting and defense to team USA.

Deviled Eggs: July 26th, 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.

Duke & USA Basketball

Duke players and coaches have amassed 36 gold medals in Olympic play, with that number continuing to grow as Blue Devils continue to make their presence felt in international play.  The school’s strong representation can be traced to the fact that at least one Blue Devil has been on every USA Basketball team since 1988.

What Do the Coaches Think of the State of College Basketball?

ESPN.com interviewed 20 (anonymous) top head coaches to find out their thoughts on the recruiting process and violations.  Be sure to check out this interesting piece to find out which league coaches think is the dirtiest and much more.

USA Basketball the New AAU?

Several current and future Blue Devils have impacted the U-18 USA Basketball team.  The team, which features incoming freshmen Josh Hairston and Kyrie Irving, recently won the Gold medal at the FIBA Championships in San Antonio. That team’s leading scorer- none other than Duke target Austin Rivers.  With such a star-studded cast of high school players opting to play for the national team instead of their respective AAU squads, it’s no wonder that Coach K remarked “We’re moving in that direction,” in reference toward more high school participation in U-18 basketball.

Former Duke Trainer Chases Coaching Dreams

Trinity School’s (Durham, NC) men’s basketball coach, Mike Huff, is a man who knows what he wants.  After all, how else could you explain his decision to leave behind a job where he got to work with the likes of Grant Hill, Jay Williams, and J.J. Redick?  Though Mike enjoyed his previous job as coordinator of sport’s performance at the Michael W. Krzyzewski Human Performance Center, he wanted to coach.  When that option wasn’t available at Duke, he followed his dreams by taking the Trinity job.

Player Survey: Kyrie Irving

When Kyrie was asked to describe himself in three words, he wrote “Hungry, Honest, Humble.”  I’ve got a different answer, “Nice. At. Ball.”  We can’t wait to see Kyrie light it up this season against the rest of the country.

Chris Duhon Giving Back to the Community

Last week, former Blue Devil Chris Duhon hosted his 6th annual basketball camp.  The camp hosted a total of 133 kids ranging from ages 7 to 15.  Read on to see what some of the participants themselves had to say about Duhon and the camp.

Also, a special congratulations goes out to Duhon, who is set to get married in a few weeks.  Best of luck in the future!

Watch U.S. U-18 Team Live Tonight, 9 PM ET

UPDATE: The U.S. is in action again tonight against Mexico, a team that was blown out by the Argentines the other day. The stream will likely start closer to 9 P.M. EST. The hyperlink below still works.

Quick hitter here, everyone. The United States Under 18 National Team is competing in the 2010 FIBA Americas Championships for the next several days, and our first official game is tonight, 8 p.m. ET, versus the Virgin Islands.

Thankfully, Americans depressed over today’s soccer loss against Ghana can revel in what should be a dominant performance by the good guys.

FibaAmericas.com is broadcasting tonight’s games from their website. Click the video under “Top Stories” to watch streaming action. You can even go fullscreen! Wow, technology.

2010 commitments Kyrie Irving and Josh Hairston are on the roster, as well as 2011 top prospects Austin Rivers, Quincy Miller, and Amir Williams. This is a great opportunity to see what Irving and Hairston can bring to the table next year—and what 2011’s recruiting haul may look like.

C-T will be covering the action via our twitter. If you enjoyed our live tweets of the NBA Draft the other night, check it out for more humorous and serious coverage while watching the game.

Weighing In: Coach K and Team USA

Every few weeks, the five of us get together and discuss a pressing question related to Duke basketball. These  discussions are then compiled into a feature aptly entitled “Weighing In”.

Today’s question: how will Coach K’s involvement in Team USA affect Duke basketball?
Chong, Daniel, and Jake “weigh in”.

He's a winner.

He's a winner.

Chong

In the early 90’s, a young up-and-coming film director from Brooklyn echoed one of the most famous lines in advertising history: “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Since then, both the director, Spike Lee, and the product advertised, Nike Basketball shoes, have become synonymous with images of success and innovation.  Behavioral economists can  present a plethora of conjectures on why the commercial succeeded, but this perfect formula doesn’t require a drawn-out explanation.  The reason that Nike’s advertisement succeeded is simple:  Nike capitalized on the star power of Michael Jordan, along with the cinematic wizardry of Spike Lee, to catapult their basketball shoe line into an international icon.

Now, how does this relate to Coach K continuing his tenure as the leader of team USA basketball?  The answer correlates exactly with what Nike did with Michael Jordan.  Instead of using MJ, Krzyzewski’s experience with the best players in the world allows Duke Basketball to reap the benefits of its coach’s increased publicity.  If you’re a high school basketball stud, wouldn’t you want a coach that could harness your skills?  Coach K, by working with the likes of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, would certainly fit the bill in terms of a coach who can handle some of the world’s hottest basketball talents.  From a recruiting standpoint, the fruits of Krzyzewski’s labor are already showing, as the class of 2010 is turning out to hold as one of the school’s best in recent memory.

But even if the international publicity does not help us (a scenario I just can’t believe), I feel that many critics of Coach K’s decision are forgetting one of the most important benefits of coaching such a talented squad of players.  Coach K, just like any other professional, constantly seeks to improve at his job.  Even if his “x’s and o’s” don’t translate to a higher-octane offense, Coach K will gain valuable experience and respect for being able to manage a group of highly-paid superstars.  We may finally be able to attract t the superstars that, over the last few years, have turned us down for the likes of Memphis, Kansas, and UNC.  We may, more importantly, be able to reload to make a serious run in the NCAA tournamnet.  Hopefully, Duke can replicate some of what the “redeem” team was able to produce in Beijing.  In the meanwhile, all we can do now is work with the talent we already have.  Just do it, Blue Devils.

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Daniel

At Duke University, greatness is spelled: K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I.

Take that, Merriam-Webster.

This ten-letter-mishmash of consonants represents Duke’s equivalent to John Wooden at UCLA, or Red Auerbach in Boston.  Despite his commitment to USA Basketball through 2012, Coach K has made his long-term intentions crystal clear; he began his career at Duke, and that’s where it will end.

For the average coach, an opportunity to lead a star-studded Olympic team would require little deliberation.  Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzewski, he’s not the average coach.  The commander-in-chief of Duke University basketball carries with him a degree of responsibility and expectation to which other collegiate programs simply cannot relate.  Since its inception, Blue Devil hoops has established a rich tradition of winning…and winning big.  For the Durham faithful, anything short of a Final Four appearance is quite frankly a disappointing season.

Duke has been getting loads of flak from the media due to recent sub-par recruitment.  Should Coach K be spending less time with USA Basketball?  Maybe.  Is his presence with the “Redeem Team” hurting Duke’s recruiting?  Absolutely not.  Find me one kid who wouldn’t kill to play amongst the likes of a Lebron James or a Kobe Bryant.  Granted, most college ballers will never have this chance…but if you can’t play with the superstars themselves, isn’t playing for their superstar-coach an enticing alternative?  At the end of the day, any recruit looking to develop his game for the next level will recognize the second-to-none caliber of coaching offered by Coach K and company.  Why not learn from the best?

Simply put, Coach K’s presence in USA Basketball is tremendous PR for Duke University basketball.  Krzyzewski has revitalized the national team and restored its winning tradition—the same type of winning tradition he’s established at Duke; one that Cameron Crazies have come to expect, year in and year out.

To all the Coach K nay-sayers and Duke haters out there (there are lots of you)—take a step back and realize the big picture.  Yes, Coach K now has less time to scour the recruiting trail due to his Olympic commitment, but he also brings something to the recruiting table that no other coach can offer; he knows how to get the most out of world-class talent.  Recruits will recognize that, and respond accordingly.

For crying out loud, look at our incoming class in 2010!  Even WITHOUT Harrison Barnes on our commit-list, Duke already has one of the most impressive classes, if not the single most impressive class, in the nation.  Seth Curry’s timely transfer from Liberty was simply icing on the cake.  The addition of Barnes would be like spelling “National Championship” on top of that cake.

Duke will soon reclaim its perch atop college basketball.  For now, be patient, and watch Coach K win another gold medal.

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Jake

In 2004, as Coach K was toying with the Los Angeles Lakers, junior Andrew Humphries wrote a letter, imploring Krzyzewski to remain at Duke. He closed the letter with an emotional statement–”Please still be my coach.” As fate would have it, Andrew and the rest of Blue Devil Nation got their wish:  Coach K elected to remain at Duke.

Humphries’ final line touched on an emotion present in every Duke fan—that of provinciality. We feel that Coach K is ours and belongs to no one else, a bastion of the our values, our spokesperson and leader. But it’s time we realize a painful truth: Coach K is more than just Duke’s coach. He is one of basketball’s premiere ambassadors, a successful businessman and promoter, and yes, the coach of the Redeem Team. We have harrumphed about these traits in our coach, claiming them as reason for our admiration and dedicated support of Duke basketball. We rejoiced when Team USA won the gold medal in Beijing. “Coach K is such a patriot!” we all exclaimed.

So why do we lament Coach K’s decision to do it all again? He’s hungry for more success. He wants to prove himself and help his country achieve even more athletic glory. Furthermore, he’s putting his reputation on the line for a second time. Win one gold medal, the media will claim that anyone could have won with the talent of Kobe, Lebron, and Carmelo. Fail to win a second? Then it’s all your fault, Coach.

We should feel lucky to have a Coach qualified to lead the Olympic team. K deserves this opportunity—and he deserves our support. The man is over sixty, and he’s managing three of the most difficult situations in basketball: the pressure of the nation on the Olympic team, the pressure of Duke fans, and the pressure of Duke haters. And he does it all with class and composure.

The biggest concern seems to be that our recruiting will suffer due to K’s absence from the circuit. Firstly, there couldn’t be a better reason for that truancy. Secondly, we signed our three recruits for the class of 2010 in the weeks following the national team’s victory over Spain. I personally saw Josh Hairston in Wallace Wade wearing a Team USA t-shirt the day he committed to Duke. Another Olympic triumph could lead to more recruiting success.

It’s time for Duke fans to let go of the notion that Coach K is only ours. He is a global basketball icon and Duke’s most recognizable face. What’s wrong with the rest of the world knowing it?

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