Published Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:25 pm
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Coach K gives Jays a salute, not a slight

Philadelphia — There's a reason the man has won 900 basketball games.

Mike Krzyzewski leaves nothing to chance. Not even the possibility that the Creighton Bluejays would finally get to play a game with a chip on their shoulders.

Coach K was holding his press conference at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. He talks about basketball at these sessions. But he can also talk about life. Or movies. Or whatever. Guru status comes with 900 wins.

Anyway, the writers wanted to talk about Florida Gulf Coast, the No. 15 seed that toppled Georgetown here Friday night, and Gulf Coast's place in the universe. K was happy to oblige. But the topic kept coming up until the Duke coach called a timeout.

“We're playing Creighton,” Krzyzewski said, “and they're damned good and I'm worried like crazy about them, guarding (Doug) McDermott and (Gregory) Echenique and (Grant) Gibbs and all these kids.

“Again, I'm happy to be publicist for the Florida Gulf Coast program, but I don't want it to show ... because somebody is going to write, well, he didn't give any respect to Creighton.

“Believe me, I've done this a long time. That's the very first thing that's going to happen. Somebody is going say, well, he didn't even talk about McDermott. He must think McDermott stinks, and he goes for 50 against us tomorrow. And I'm shaking hands with him, we get beat and they say, show us some respect next time. And I say, 'I did, I did. I promise you I did that.'

“In a headline, note that.”

Krzyzewski didn't stop there. After leaving the interview room, he bumped into Doug McDermott, Echenique and Gibbs, who were on their way to the interview room. He shook their hands and told them exactly what he had just told the writers.

Just like that, any chance that CU would have any “little guy” motivation tonight was gone. Not only was Duke not dissing them, the king himself was taking time to throw bouquets at them in the hallway.

He's good. He's really good.

And that's fine, because the Jays don't need the underdog crutch tonight, when they play one of the biggest games in school history.

When you go by seed, the Blue Devils are the favorites. Go by tradition and star power, and they're the heavy favorites.

But this isn't Doug vs. Goliath.

This is a game the Jays can win, without apologies or stretch of imagination.

Creighton has been ranked, has beaten major level schools and has an All-American, arguably the best player on the court tonight.

When the Jays are playing their pace and shooting it — a requirement tonight — they can play with anyone in the country.

Duke, meanwhile, can beat Miami or lose to Virginia or Maryland. This is not a great Duke team.

This is not North Carolina last year. Duke isn't as athletic. Echenique is a good matchup on Mason Plumlee. But who does Duke put on Doug? Maybe his old roommate from last summer, Ryan Kelly. Duke may not have anyone who can stop Doug.

The pace of this game should also favor the Jays, if they have any semblance of rebounding and defense, which they've had of late. It should be a terrific game to watch.

As long as the Jays aren't watching, too.

Creighton coaches and players were saying all the right things on Saturday. But until you've stood on the court next to the uniforms that say “Duke,” you don't know how you'll react.

“Obviously, we all have great respect for Duke and their program,” Greg McDermott said. “We've been on this stage before (a year ago). I don't think our guys will be in awe of the situation. We know we belong on the court with them.”

Then again, Coach Mac has never taken a limo on a recruiting visit.

Coach K did that a few years ago, to Ames High School in Iowa. He and assistant Steve Wojciechowski drove up to the school in a limo and parked it up front, so the whole school could see. They were there to visit a kid named Harrison Barnes.

A teammate of Barnes was assigned to greet Coach K as he arrived.

“I'd welcome him to our school,” Doug said. “He got the front-row parking. It was the talk of the school: Coach K is coming today.”

If Coach K were really good, he would have bypassed Barnes and recruited Doug McDermott. Of course, nobody knew then what they know now. Imagine Doug in a Duke uniform.

Doug once did.

“I was a Duke fan growing up,” Doug said. “They were on TV all the time. That's the team I watched. I always liked the Carolina-Duke rivalry. A lot of my friends were Duke fans, too, and we used to imitate them.

“To play them now is really a cool deal.”

You either love or hate Duke. Ethan Wragge says, “I grew up hating Duke.” Grant Gibbs was a fan, and favored the games of J.J. Redick and Christian Laettner, two Dookies who reveled in being the villain. Coincidence?

“There may be something to that,” Gibbs said with a laugh.

Greg McDermott has taken his son to several NCAA tourney games and to the Final Four. Did the two ever imagine they would be teaming up against Duke?

“This one takes the cake,” Greg said.

They couldn't have known this would happen. Just like Doug couldn't have known that, a few years later, the guy in the limo would call Doug one of the greatest offensive players in the last 10 years in college basketball.

“McDermott is such a beautiful player,” Krzyzewski said. “He's a counter puncher. They run stuff for him, and if it's not there, he sees if it's not there, and he goes right to the counter punch. He has another read.

“Many of his shots are made before he gets the ball. That's a beautiful part of basketball, through offensive movement. He's so difficult to defend because you don't know exactly what he's going to do and he's making his shot before he gets the ball.”

One day, perhaps soon, Doug will be arriving at places in a limo, too.

But tonight, it's worth noting that Coach K won't be taking a limo to the Wells Fargo Center. He'll be on a bus. And the Blue Devils, like the Jays, get off the bus one step at a time.

Who's favored tonight?

“That kid McDermott is not bad,” Coach K said on his way out the door. “Watch him tomorrow. He can really play.

“And the guy who coaches him seems to have a really close relationship with him. It's like his father. I mean, I wish I could develop that — they look like father and son. I wish I could have that type of relationship with my guys. I admire what they do.”

He's really good.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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