Duke's Historic NBA Draft Finally Secures John Wooden's Place (Duh) In History

Chris Dufresne

What was softly suggested in April can now be screamed: Duke’s aborted run in this year’s NCAA tournament may be remembered as the biggest disappointment (choke job?) in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s hall-of-fame career.

Now it can officially be told: Duke failed to make the Final Four despite having THREE of the top 10 players selected in Thursday’s NBA draft.

And that included Mt. Zion Williamson, the No.1 overall pick.

The only other school to have three, top-10 NBA picks was Florida in 2007, with Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah.

Here's the thing: that Florida team won the NCAA title, by nine points, over Ohio State.

Thursday's NBA draft may finally put the pump brakes on a program and coach some people have desperately tried to raise above UCLA’s dynasty under John Wooden.

Coach K, to his credit, has never, ever allowed himself to get caught in the myiopic hyperventilation, even after winning his fifth NCAA title in 2015.

“When you mention Coach Wooden, he’s separate from everybody,” Krzyzewksi said after Duke beat Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

That didn’t stop a few nattering nabobs from anointing Coach K, after that game, as the greatest coach of all time.

One guy, writing for a national newspaper, dared suggest Coach K was better because he had coached the USA to two Olympic gold medals.

That was the clincher, really?

These “historians” rarely mention the show-stopper statistic in Wooden’s legend arsenal, the one that transcends time, NCAA format changes and the tired yarn “some years he only needed to win four games to win the title.”

That show-stopper nugget: UCLA, under Wooden, won 38 straight, single-elimination NCAA tournament games—not one against a No. 16 seed.

Do the math and get back to me.

We get that today’s crowd has been brainwashed into believing nothing mattered in sports before ESPN was founded in 1979.

ESPN has done a great job in perpetuating that myth, for one, naming Michael Jordan as the greatest athlete of the 20th Century over Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali.

Interestingly, Coach K could have pursued a presentable case versus Wooden had he won a sixth, or seventh, NCAA title since his last in 2015.

Yet, he hasn’t. In fact, Coach K’s case has gotten weaker each year he has fallen short in the NCAA tournament with the hand-picked best players in America (and Canada).

Made worse: Duke was eliminated in this year’s regional finals by Michigan State, a team with NO players selected in either the first, or second, rounds.

Understanding the flukiness of the NCAA format, one loss and you’re out, Duke’s recent performance most poorly reflected on Coach K.

The one-and-one recruitment philosophy at Duke has garnered one NCAA title for Coach K. In a weird way, you can ask, at what cost?

Some respected Coach K more when he won titles at Duke with seasoned third-and-fourth year players.

Coach K can NOT be blamed for succumbing to the system and becoming a piggy-backer of John Calipari’s one-and-done philosophy at Kentucky.

No coach should be blamed for wanting the best high school players in America (and Serbia).

The problem, in terms of historical roundups, is getting those players and not winning titles.

Duke had the No.1, No. 3 and No. 10 picks in the draft, yet couldn’t even get past Tom Izzo’s bunch, which failed to make it the NCAA title game.

The argument, remember, isn’t about Coach K’s legacy, which is secured tighter than that briefcase carrying the nuclear codes (we bloody well hope).

The argument, back in 2015, was Coach K vs. Coach Wooden.

It was, back then, an interesting discussion.

But not so much now.

And Now This...

Hey look: United Airlines is offering USC football fans a direct flight for this year’s game at Notre Dame, LAX to South Bend.

Let me say this about that: If USC is 2-3 entering that Oct. 12 game, Trojan fans making the trip will enjoy something never previously experienced on a United Flight: plenty of leg room.

UCLA football, in the meantime, warding off stories of anonymous player dislike for coach Chip Kelly, is reportedly close to inking a rights deal with Divided Airlines.

Now we know: The “E” in ESPN stands for “Enough.”

Forget every crazy thing LaVar Ball has said in the past. He finally crossed the line this week when he made would could be interpreted as suggestive comments to ESPN host Molly Qerim:

Qerim: “LaVar, Can I switch gears with you?”

LaVar: “You can switch gears with me anytime.”

ESPN called the response “inappropriate” and announced Ball may not be invited back to spew his silliness: “We have no plans moving forward.”

Nice to see ESPN is "switching gears."

My guess is ESPN's gag order will end 10 minutes after LaVar says something silly on Barstool.

Big Easy Baller: Having watched Lonzo Ball and his brothers grow up in Chino Hills (LaVar, the dad, never grew up), I thought getting drafted by the Lakers was the worst thing that could have happened to Lonzo.

I thought he needed to separate from his father and start a fresh NBA life in another city.

Now, after two injury-filled years in the white-hot glow in L.A., Lonzo gets his chance.

His proposed trade to New Orleans as part of the complicated Anthony Davis deal could be just what the Dr. John (RIP) ordered.

My prediction here is that Lonzo will flourish as part of an exciting young team that includes Zion Williamson, Jaxon Hayes and a cavalcade of cast-off former Laker top draft picks.

New Orleans should be the team to watch in the NBA, and very soon, possibly the team to beat.


Chris Dufresne