In Hoops We Trust: Trust Coach, “It’s OK”

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on January 5th, 2017

When Grayson Allen suited up for Duke on Wednesday evening against Georgia Tech, much more than just an interesting news story erupted on social media. Writers and fans all jumped in to add their two cents on whether Allen’s remarkably swift return from his “indefinite” suspension for tripping an Elon player in a game last month was appropriate, adequate or even necessary. Predictably, most (presumably non-Duke) fans said Allen’s sentence was too short. And just as predictably, scribes across the spectrum said it was just enough and to trust the judgment of the legendary coach. Which, of course, (predictably) sent those same (non-Duke) fans into fits of eye-rolling at what they deemed as the writers’ (predictably) pro-Mike Krzyzewski response. Adding another layer to this is the news that Coach K is about to take a month-long leave of absence for back surgery, effectively handing over his team to assistant Jeff Capel. Toss in that Allen is the prototypical Duke “villain” personality (in attitude, demeanor, and, yes, race), and that the Blue Devils badly lost the only game Allen was “indefinitely” suspended for, and you have quite a little tempest brewing in Durham.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond,

With back surgery looming, Mike Krzyzewski might have ended Allen’s suspension earlier than expected to ease the transition to Jeff Capel. (Photo by Nell Redmond,

It would be easy to see this as a craven move by a coaching lifer who is regularly given a tremendous benefit of the doubt by anyone in the basketball community. Or to see it as a sign of injustice for a white kid at the NCAA’s ur-basketball location. But to me, it’s pretty simple. Krzyzewski had Allen return after a one-game absence because the pressure would have been on Capel to mete out a punishment he didn’t inflict, and then to end that punishment when Capel deemed appropriate. That would be unfair to Capel and unfair to Allen. The coach who punished him should be the one that he signed with and the one absolving him, whatever that punishment might have been. You could argue that Allen deserved to miss more games, but not many more. Could Krzyzewski have handled the entire thing better from the beginning? Yes. Is this some case of malicious intent? Unlikely.

Let’s be honest, there isn’t a fan outside of Durham who believes that a THREE-TIME tripping offender should have missed only one game. Or that this same THREE-TIME tripping offender wearing any other school’s jersey would have remotely gotten away with it THREE TIMES without more backlash from those same writers and pundits who gave Coach K a free pass. Perhaps it’s just a case of bad optics, as they say. But let’s face it, the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history couldn’t give a fig about your optics. In this case, he sought to squelch a negative situation involving his team before it dragged on, and to be the leader in the locker room who dispenses justice to his own players. After stripping Allen of his captaincy, Coach K looked to bring his player back into the fold to learn from his mistake, not to suffer so that opposing fans’ appetites for schadenfreude could be sated. Right? He did this for all the right reasons… right? I guess it’s hard to say. Probably depends on which school you root for.


A pair of coaches that took on tough gigs a few years ago look like they may be finding their footing. Buzz Williams shocked many observers in 2014 when he left what seemed like a winning job at Marquette to take over a downtrodden, second-tier ACC program at Virginia Tech. Mike White came to his current job at Florida very differently. After the two-time NCAA title-winner Billy Donovan left Gainesville for the greener gra$$ of the NBA, Florida tapped the Louisiana Tech coach to take his place, no small task even at a so-called “football school.” Williams may have had his reasons for leaving, but when he finished his first season in Blacksburg at 11-22 with a 2-16 ACC record, it certainly looked like a head-scratching mistake. But the fiery head coach, who is widely respected in the coaching fraternity, seems to be building from the ground up. The Hokies finished last season with a winning record in a tough ACC and reached the NIT. So far this year, Virginia Tech has 12 wins in 14 tries, including a home drubbing of Duke on New Year’s Eve. Hard-nosed, stubborn, intense and feisty, Williams’ teams reflect their coach’s demeanor.

Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams Appears to Have Things Moving in the Right Direction (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams Appears to Have Things Moving in the Right Direction (USA Today Images)

For White, it was about establishing his own identity. Donovan didn’t leave a lot of talent on the Gators’ roster when he walked, and White’s first team struggled to a .500 record in a soft SEC followed by a 21-15 season a year ago, despite finishing strong in the NIT. But what White’s team may lack in star power, it’s making up for in heart. Featuring a balanced attack on offense and an in-your-shorts defensive presence, the Gators thus far look like Kentucky’s best competition in the SEC. With 11 wins already, it is apparent that White’s comfort level in the seat his predecessor left is growing. The season is long, and we shall see what happens in the long, dark days of January and February, but after paying their dues, both White and Williams seem to have their programs moving up. If they can turn the corner this season and start bringing in some better talent, the lean times at the beginning of their tenures may yield to lasting success in Gainesville and Blacksburg.

JWeill (27 Posts)

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