Coach K Joined the "One-And-Done" Crowd, Won With Team More Freshman-Dominated than 2012 Kentucky


If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And sometimes, even if you can beat ’em, join ’em and have an even better chance. Mike Krzyzewski is now the only coach to have won two titles since the NBA instituted what has become known as the “one-and-done” rule in the summer of 2006. Duke’s title in 2010 came with a veteran squad, against the stream of young talent that was jumping to the NBA right away. In 2015, it came with freshmen scoring 60 of 68 points in the finals.

We have seen freshmen make an impact in the tournament finale before. Michael Jordan hit the game-winner for North Carolina in 1982. “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison won Most Outstanding Player for Louisville in 1986. The Fab Five is the most famous collection of freshman, and reached the Final in 1992. Ohio State went to the Final in 2007 with highly-drafted freshmen, and Calipari’s Memphis and Kentucky contenders have relied heavily on first-year players.

None has had such a high percentage of the points scored by freshmen in the final. To put Duke’s 60 of 68 in perspective, in 1992, Michigan’s Fab Five accounted for 41 of 51 points scored (80.4%). For Kentucky in 2012, the freshmen accounted for 31 of 67 (Anthony Davis only had 6 in the final, sophomore Doron Lamb was the leading scorer). The 2007 Ohio State finalists led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley got 51 0f 75 points from freshmen.

During the season, that Fab Five team is still the standard, with 74% of their scoring. But, while the 2012 Kentucky team is the symbol of the dominant “one-and-done” team for Calipari, freshmen accounted for 53% of scoring over the season, compared to 57% for this year’s Duke squad.

This is an amoral issue. There is nothing inherently good nor inherently evil about taking a highly recruited freshman who is likely to be turning pro when possible, though Kentucky winning in 2012 did lead to cries of the death of the student-athlete. It is interesting the path that Coach K has taken here, to out-Calipari-ing Kentucky this year. In 2006, Coach K expressed his dislike of the rule change by the NBA, expressing a preference that players still be allowed to turn professional out of high school, but committing for two years if they do not.

“If you have to go for one year, I may be placing you in a situation you don’t want to be in,” he said. “What courses do you take? Do you go to school in the second semester? Do you ever unpack your bags? [“HOT FRESHMAN CLASS GIVES SPARK TO ACC; SPORTS”, The Roanoke Times (VA), October 23, 2006].

Duke has now won a title doing it the freshman route, peaking at the right time, with players such as Winslow and Allen emerging even more as the tournament went on. There’s nothing wrong with it. The biggest question going forward–once Duke has won this way, is will it continue? Can Duke University stomach the potential swings that might come. We saw Kentucky miss the tournament two years ago, and relatively struggle in the regular season last year before putting a run together, in the aftermath of losing talented freshman and not quite reaching the same standards. What is clear after Kentucky and now Duke making these runs, is we can expect freshmen and underclassmen to continue to be in the mix for a title. Sorry, Senator.