Is coach Mike Krzyzewski running a basketball factory at Duke? Has he turned his back on education? Are his Blue Devils better role models than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats?
The correct answers are yes, no and no, respectively.
But (don’t look now), Duke has produced a one-and-done player for the second consecutive season. Freshman Austin Rivers is leaving for the NBA draft.
“Duke has prepared me for the challenges that are ahead both on and off the court,” Rivers said in a statement issued by the school. “I have learned so much from the coaching staff and my teammates that will help me succeed at the next level.”
A certain stereotype often is attached to one-and-dones, much like the cliched image of preps-to-pros who preceded them until 2006. They all hail from poor families and they’re poor students, possessing poor character and judgment. Basketball is their only “ticket” out, as they neither appreciate college degrees nor have the intellect to obtain one.
We’re comfortable with that perception draped on Kentucky, where Calipari’s revolving-door program is built on NBA-ready freshmen. A half-dozen one-and-done Wildcats were selected in the first round of the past two drafts. Calipari’s freshmen have been top-four picks in four consecutive drafts, including No. 1 picks John Wall (2010) and Derrick Rose (Memphis, 2008).
The streak will continue if, as expected, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leave school early. Davis is the consensus No. 1 pick, and Kidd-Gilchrist is projected in the top five.
His success at recruiting and reloading has made Calipari the bane of his sport, as if one-and-done players are somehow dirty. Never mind that he said Brandon Knight, the No. 8 pick last year, transferred 23 honors courses upon enrollment at Kentucky and left as a freshman with 60 credits and a 4.0 GPA.
Paint them all with the same broad brush, the bad guys using college as a pit stop at best and a doormat at worst.
But when it happens at Duke, one of the nation’s most-pristine powerhouses, you have to reconsider everything. Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, isn’t coming out because his family is broke, or Coach K gets on his nerves, or education is meaningless to him.
He’s coming out because he wants to play with the world’s greatest ballers. The multimillion dollar contract he’ll sign in a few months is gravy.
“Austin had a terrific year as a freshman and has put himself in a position to pursue his dream of being a great player in the NBA,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He is an outstanding young man with an even more-impressive family. We are in total support of Austin, his family and his decision. We look forward to watching him continue to develop and excel at the next level.”
Coach K issued a near-identical statement when Kyrie Irving left as a freshman and became the No. 1 overall pick last year. Like Rivers, Irving comes from a sound background. His father, a former Boston University standout, graduated with an economics degree and works as a senior bond analyst at Thomson Reuters. Irving promised to earn his degree within five years and took a full course load while the labor dispute was being hammered out last summer.
Irving, the favorite to win Rookie of the Year, and Rivers, a projected lottery pick, give Coach K four one-and-done players in his 32 seasons at Duke.
Calipari had four in the 2010 draft alone.
But it doesn’t matter whether they’re A-students or struggling students; from well-to-do families or families barely making it; destined to become NBA stars or NBA busts; former Duke Blue Devils of former Kentucky Wildcats.
One group isn’t better or worse than the other. They’re just different.