Thursday Final Four Commentary

Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: I don’t need to watch spoiled, entitled basketball brats from Kentucky go on an ego spree by crazily firing 32 3-point shots, and making only four, in an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia. I’ll take Butler, which runs an offense and (gosh) makes the extra pass. I’m good with Butler’s best player, Gordon Hayward, who told the Indianapolis Star he’s worried about missing his math classes this week. “I’ve got a heavy class load,” Hayward said. “Some guys don’t have anything, but I wasn’t as lucky with scheduling.” Wait a minute: a real student, competing for the NCAA basketball championship? Who let Hayward and Butler in here? Butler clearly needs to hire John Calipari’s academic advisers. I’m fine with Kansas coach Bill Self sitting in the stands. Nothing personal; he’s a nice fellow. But his No. 1 seed Jayhawks lost heart as soon as Northern Iowa punched them in the mouth early on in their second-round game. I’ll take Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who dug in and willed the Spartans to the Final Four despite the loss of Kalin Lucas, their injured point guard and leading scorer. I’ll even take this version of Duke, which made it back to the Final Four with a lineup rotation that really doesn’t rate with coach Mike Krzyzewski’s previous Final Four teams. Duke’s recruiting has slumped a bit in recent years. Based on previous Duke standards, Coach K has done more with less. There isn’t a sure No. 1 NBA draft pick on this Duke roster.

Jim Riggio, Real Clear Sports: All of the transfers left Duke with just two guards in summer in senior Jon Scheyer and junior Nolan Smith. But through it all Krzyzewski has worked his magic thanks to the knowledge of his players’ academic backgrounds. Andre Dawkins, who committed to Duke as a high school junior and figured to be one of the top prep players in the nation this year, would have actually been playing his fifth year of high school basketball. After transferring high schools following his freshman year, he was allowed to reclassify as a freshman for basketball purposes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So Krzyzewski spoke to Dawkins about coming to Durham early and with guaranteed playing time available. The youngster couldn’t say no. It sounded like all the problems were solved and Krzyzewski could relax. But then in early December, Dawkins’ mother and sister were planning to drive down to North Carolina to see him play, only to never make it. With his mother also in the car, Dawkins’ sister Lacey was killed on a highway in West Virginia. This forced Dawkins to take temporary leave from the team to grieve his loss.

Jeff Goodman, There’s Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will likely retire as the all-time winningest coach in D-1 history; Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who is making a remarkable sixth Final Four appearance in the past dozen years; and Bob Huggins, who will likely join Coach K and Izzo in the Hall of Fame soon after he calls it a career. Three larger-than-life figures who have roamed the sidelines for years. Three fiery, intimidating personalities who are often unable to control their emotions. Then there’s Stevens, the 33-year-old wunderkind who just never, ever seems to lose his cool. Except when, following the win over Kansas State that earned Butler a spot in the Final Four in the Bulldogs hometown this week, Stevens ran across the floor and exchanged chest-bumps with walk-on Emerson Kampen. Stevens had been doing it in the locker room following each of the first three NCAA tournament wins, but decided to show a side of him that few have seen.

Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press: Izzo had gone to Tulsa only for the money. It was 1986, he’d been making less than $5,000 a year at Michigan State as a part-time assistant, and Tulsa offered a job as recruiting coordinator, which paid, he recalls, around $35,000. A fortune! Jud Heathcote, his MSU mentor, told him it probably would be a good move, so Izzo packed a suitcase and a duffel bag and went to Oklahoma to work for an intense coach named J.D. Barnett. One of the first questions Barnett had asked him was, “Do you promise you’ll stay?” And Izzo intended to. He wore a shirt and tie every day, as Barnett demanded. He worked from 6:30 a.m. until midnight, six days a week. He touted the Golden Hurricane logo and told recruits Tulsa would be a great place for them to play basketball. But seven weeks after he’d arrived — just as Izzo was about to buy a house — Heathcote called. A position had opened at MSU. Did he want to come back? … “Oh, J.D. went off!” Izzo recalls, laughing. “He was screaming, ‘Turn your car in RIGHT NOW!’ I kept trying to say I was sorry. He wouldn’t hear it. He was so mad. He hung up on me. I don’t blame him.” Izzo went down the hall and found a young staffer named Ron. He asked for a ride back from the car dealership. “I can’t do that,” Ron said, glumly. “Why not?” Izzo said. “J.D. just called and told me not to do anything for you.”

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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