It’s an adjective that seems tailor-made for the likes of John Wooden. It fits the legendary UCLA basketball coach like a pair of well worn wing-tips: greatest.
For the man who built Bruins basketball (1948-75) into the collegiate powerhouse and standard of excellence by which all roundball programs are judged by way of 10 NCAA titles, .804 win-% and player greats like Hazzard, Walton, Goodrich, Wicks, Alcindor (Kareem) and Meyers, the superlatives never grow tiresome.
But while it may be blasphemy to write, after Duke‘s latest NCAA triumph over gritty Final foe Wisconsin (68-63), it may be time to bump the Wizard of Westwood from his seemingly permanent place atop college b-ball’s all-time greatest coaches perch in favor of the near nonpareil that has become Mike Krzyzewski.
It’s a roost where John’s towered over a pantheon of greats that include the names Rupp, Iba, Knight, McGuire, McCracken, Smith, Pitino, Donovan, Crum, Haskins, Calhoun, Jucker, Allen and many more, including careers that pre-dated the NCAA tourney (‘39) or side-stepped it all together (early NIT (Bee)).
Here’s why Krzyzewski should now be considered college basketball’s top dog amongst high caliber coaching canines. Metaphors and alliteration rock.
While Coach K’s five (5) NCAA titles are only half as many as the Wizard’s ten (10), consider the time span they cover.
After taking the reins at Duke in 1980, the first title trophy would be had in 1991 in a legendary run that included a semi-final upset win over defending champion (‘90 v DU) and undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels enroute to a final win over perennial power, Kansas. That was followed by the validating victory over the so-called Fab Five of Michigan (’92) to complete the back-to-back reign.
The third championship would come nine year later (‘01 / UA), the fourth nine years after that (‘10 / Butler) and fifth in 2015 (UW). A 25 year span. Call it the extended dynasty and it’s in vogue (See: Popovich (NBA) and Belichick (NFL)).
And Mike’s not done, not by a long shot. Though, at the rate he’s going, he’ll need another 30 years to match John’s massive mark of ten NCAAs championships.
But quantity is not always everything (See; Bonds v Ruth & Aaron).
I take nothing away from the fact Wooden’s achievements occurred in an era that some might distortedly describe as a period not far removed from the peach basket days.
John topped the best programs of his time while his schemes & players would without a doubt, out maneuver most of today’s mind & muscle. I simply give high praise to Mike’s splendid span of success.
And what Krzyzewski has done in adapting to change is almost incomparable.
This ability is most recognizable in adjusting to the now common early exit of under-classman to the pro ranks (seven of John Calipari’s Wildcats declared last week for the 2015 NBA draft) which makes continuity in player appreciation (of game plan) and rapport (with co-workers) so much harder to achieve.
Because rosters in many of today’s top school’s are in a constant state of flux, a coach’s duties in recruiting and stratagem must be frequently fine-tuned with great precision. The recruiting and ‘edge’ games (as in, finding one) are played out 12 months a year. It’s just one of the many job developments Mr. Wooden might find entirely exasperating.
In short, it’s harder to be a coach today: more change, more opinions, more rules, more duties, more expectations and more competition. And John would agree.
As to in-game strategies, if there was one guy who could prevent Wisconsin from fulfilling what looked to be a destiny with greatness in 2015 by replicating Duke’s 1991 championship run, it would be Michael Krzyzewski, the Great Exploiter.
Holding your opponent to 68 is good defense but in the Final, against b-ball’s standard-bearer school (DU), you’ve gotta’ be better than good, for the distance.
Badgers lacked the zest they displayed against the favored Kentuckians, and while Kaminsky played a blinder, Dekker was a bit short in 2H. Mike will exploit any mistake, any fade-away in game like no other college coach in history.
Did the officials tilt the contest East? Maybe, by chance, but that’s just fine whine. Teams, schools looking to break through into the upper echelon of juggernaut programs will overcome adversity (See; Duke ’91) and don’t make excuses.
And it’s why the biggest stars in today’s college hoops are coaches, not the highly-touted players who often exit not long after they arrive on campus and are just as quickly forgotten when the new high school recruits arrive to fanfare
Early departures for greener pastures are no good for gurus and fans, but if you could ask that great Marquette coach and forerunner to today’s adaptable coach, Al McGuire (‘77 NCAA title (d. ‘01)), he might say something like this: ‘More power to those kids who exit early for big bucks. Life’s short and you should ‘grab the gusto’ while you can.’
That’s in opposite of the guy who’s building his own cult of personality out West in Madison, Badgers’ coach Bo Ryan (FF ‘14 & ‘15) who’s from the ‘finish what you start’ School of Thought, i.e.,‘one & done’ be darned.
Wooden or Krzyzewski? You can’t go wrong whomever you seat upon the throne for the greatest men’s college basketball coach (Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma just claimed his 10th NCAA on the ladies side). But if you don’t tab Mike, you better find Mr. Duke a big chair to power-share with the Wizard. Swish!
Photo credits: Krzyzewski, 2013, Glantzman, wc; Krzyzewski, 4.6.6, WD.Moss, wc; Wooden, 72, UCLA-S.Campus, wc; Wooden, UCLA-(SC), 65, wc; Krzyzewski, wc, 1.12.12, CJCoS(Cullen); Straight.Shooter. produce.label
Posted: 4.13.15 @ 6:35pm; edit 10:37 EST