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Commentary: College coaches can’t ignore one-and-done reality

By Rick Bonnell, McClatchy Newspapers –

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some thoughts on underclassmen and the NBA draft:

Mike Krzyzewski didn’t last this long as Duke coach by failing to adapt. Back in 1999, Krzyzewski was surprised and frustrated when Corey Maggette turned pro after his freshman year. Now Krzyzewski includes one-and-done scenarios in his recruiting pitch.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said as much this week, in talking about son Austin’s decision to leave Duke and turn pro after one season.

“Coach K recruited him as a one-and-done the same way they recruited Kyrie Irving,” Doc Rivers explained to Boston reporters.

To fight this thing would be silly, and I’m not sure fans along Tobacco Road get that. There’s resentment that Kentucky coach John Calipari signs a handful of one-and-dones, coaches them up and then replaces them with a new freshman class.

Some fans find this unscrupulous. I find it practical. Calipari didn’t create this system, where even the best players must be a year removed from high school to be drafted. Calipari just adapted faster, and everyone else — Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams included — is catching up.

There are reasons to think Calipari plays fast-and-loose, but this isn’t one. Can’t blame him for adjusting to the landscape.

And look who just won a national championship.

On staying vs. going:

I get why fans of a particular school want that program’s best player to stay in college. But that wishful thinking has spawned fallacies. The biggest, in my opinion: That the longer you put off the NBA, the better prepared you’ll be as a pro.

That doesn’t pass the sniff test. Is Harrison Barnes a better prospect for staying at North Carolina as a sophomore?

Seems to me he stagnated and didn’t address his weaknesses, such as his ballhandling. That might be an isolated example, but think about the improvement Gerald Henderson has made as a Charlotte Bobcat:

Henderson is a dramatically better jump-shooter and dribbler than he was at Duke. That’s no knock on the coaching he got at Duke. But, it acknowledges that college coaches get only so much time to work with players one-on-one under NCAA rules.

When you’re drafted, basketball becomes your job and the time and structure is there to address your weaknesses. Henderson shows the results.

Doc Rivers, candid as any coach I know, said this about players leaving college early:

“The one-and-dones who haven’t made it would have been four-year players and not made it. It’s the same with guys who went two years and three years and not made it. You’re either a player or not.”

On being a dad vs. being a coach:

I chuckled at Doc Rivers’ reply when asked how he’ll manage the conflict-of-interest if Austin is available when the Celtics pick.

“I’ll say (to general manager Ainge), you’d better draft him!” Rivers joked.

“But we’ll do what’s best for the team. I’m just not going to answer my phone (on draft night), because my wife will be calling.”


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