3-point shot: Nebraska's freshman PG

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
Andy Katz gives an update on a Nebraska freshman, Memphis' Austin Nichols and an honor for San Diego State coach Steve Fisher.

3-point shot: DaJuan Coleman update

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Andy Katz gives an update via Jim Boeheim on DaJuan Coleman, Boeheim's pick for top teams and the AAC allowing experimenting with 30-second shot clock in exhibition games.
In late August, as Kentucky wound down its televised exhibition trip to the Bahamas, John Calipari's solution to his very enviable problem -- having 10 elite players in a sport that allows just five players on the court at any given time -- became clear. Kentucky would run a platoon. And it would be awesome.

A week after that trip ended, Calipari made a hire that went mostly unnoticed outside Lexington, Kentucky. Joel Justus, a former Eton assistant fresh off a successful high school run at Davidson (N.C.) High School, joined the Wildcats as director of men's basketball analytics. According to Kentucky's release, Justus would be charged with "analyzing player and team performance, utilizing various stats and data to help develop efficient strategies through video."

The news of a major, deep-pocketed program like Kentucky's adding a coach whose sole responsibility is to filter advanced analysis is hardly news in its own right. Plenty of programs have devoted at least some resources to the idea lately. The benefits of an all-seeing statistical eye are fairly obvious. Concerted analytical effort yields better information, from simple things like per-possession numbers to hyper-detailed practice tracking, or video analysis the likes of which NBA franchises are obsessed. Better information yields better decisions. Better decisions yield better results. This all goes without saying, and doesn't require justification.

In other words, Calipari didn't really need to explain why he hired an advanced analytics type. But on Monday, at a UK alumni luncheon in Louisville, he did so anyway. His motivation? The platoon.
"If you're playing 20 minutes, what will your NCAA stats look like?" Calipari said. "Terrible for NCAA stats. So we're going to have big data stats, per-minute and efficiency stats that we can send to NBA teams."

The last bit is most interesting. Calipari says he wants to speak the analytical lingua franca not because he feels his own program needs it to win basketball games, but because he wants to be able to sell his players to NBA front offices. He wants to, in his own words, make sure "every one of these kids eats." That means revealing their abilities even when their counting stats -- or, as he calls them, their "NCAA stats" -- take a platoon-related hit.

It can't hurt. Still, one has to wonder: Didn't Kentucky collect per-possession stats before? (Probably.) Don't NBA franchises have enough resources devoted to scouting talents like the Wildcats'? (Yes.) Do they really need UK's proprietary data? (Almost certainly not.)

The real message here lies a little deeper: Calipari is devoted enough to the platoon system that he's willing to create a new position on his staff to make sure every player gets his eventual due. That's good news for anyone excited to see Kentucky try to pull off a borderline ridiculous idea. It's also good news for UK's players, who can rest easier knowing that joining a team with this many good players need not hurt their NBA chances. If UK prospects hear the message, even better.

UK's new director of men's basketball analytics may well help Kentucky win. But Calipari's real victory comes -- as usual -- in the marketing department. Whatever Justus cooks up in the video room is a bonus.
Havoc is not created in a day, at least not the sort that Shaka Smart would like to wreak. VCU's brand of mayhem takes time to build and time is not something basketball coaches always had.

But now, thanks to a few NCAA rule tweaks and a reconstituted basketball calendar, Smart and his peers have a little wiggle room. Gone are the days when coaches and players sat pent up, like horses in the gates before a big race, waiting for 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 15 to see if their players actually followed their offseason conditioning program.

[+] EnlargeShaka Smart
Mike Lawrie/Getty ImagesCoach Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams can begin team practices up to six weeks prior to their opening game against Tennessee on Nov. 14.
For two years running, they've been able to actually work with their players individually throughout the summer -- and in larger groups after Sept. 15. And instead of the hard date of Oct. 15, practice starts six weeks prior to a team's particular opening game.

So this week, in fact, is the start for a vast majority of teams. Yes, that's worthy of an alleluia.

(Although we can pause here and say a prayer over the corpse of Midnight Madness. Lefty Driesell's brainchild is all but gone thanks to the scheduling changes. Fewer and fewer schools do anything, other than maybe a public scrimmage; more and more, if they host a madness, offer more of a public-relations, dog-and-pony show that occasionally includes a basketball; and almost no one waits until midnight).

While the changes haven't exactly added up to stress-free coaches (an oxymoron, if ever there was one), they have worked into a completely different approach to preparation and practice. Perhaps, too, they have made for a better product on the court. There's no concrete evidence to support the latter, but anecdotally, anyone who watched last year's Champions Classic and other early-season games would agree that it was pretty good hoops for early November.

"You know, 10 years ago the first practice, the first time together was Midnight Madness, so you hadn't been together as a team for several months before that," Smart said. "There's a little less of a buildup, maybe, than there used to be, but I think overall, it's been really helpful."

Every coach, like every team, approaches his preseason run-up differently.

Smart, because of his style of play, stresses conditioning. His guys have become familiar with the torture device known as the VersaClimber, a machine that mimics climbing a tree, only there is no tree, it's not much fun and it's a lot more painful.

For the Rams, conditioning has to be a year-round commitment, but with the extra time to actually see his guys and work with them, Smart at least knows the work is getting done.

"You can't practice if you're not conditioned; it would be a waste," Smart said. "You have to get your bodies ready. Our strength coach calls it building body armor."

At UCLA, Steve Alford puts the emphasis on skill development all summer and deep into September.

It's not that he ignores the fundamentals once official practice begins, but with the need to integrate offenses and defenses, plus scout opponents, he might spend just 15-20 minutes on skill development.

In the time leading up to Friday's practice start, he's devoted the better part of his two hours to skills.

"We're really taking everything they do individually and working with them," Alford said.

Meantime, Tim Miles goes in a different direction at Nebraska. He looks for specific game situations he might not otherwise have time for during practice.

"We might work on a different type of offense or some wacky plays," said Miles, whose team starts practice officially on Oct. 5. "We'll spend an hour on the third option of how we double in the post."

Most everyone agrees on one thing universally -- that used properly, the extra time allows for something even more precious than practice:

By NCAA rule, college basketball teams can practice 30 times in those 42 days prior to the first game.

Or, in other words, take 12 days off.

Days off once were like unicorns to college basketball players, fairy-tale rumors lost in the midst of two- and even three-a-day, high-intensity practices.

"I'd say probably a few, if any, coaches would ever give guys two days off in a row before," Alford said. "Now, you can actually do that."

Ideally, the rest doesn't stop in October, either. With more things checked off the to-do list early, even coaches who micromanage every minute can afford to ease off the gas once official practice starts.

And in a season that spans two semesters and stretches across six months, that's never a bad thing.

"There's nothing like basketball season," Miles said. "Your full body of work matters. A game on Jan. 8 is equal to a game on March 8, which is equal to a Nov. 25 game. You can wear your guys out, and, really, that's the worst thing you can do."

3-point shot: Taking a look at Ohio

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Andy Katz looks at the questions at Ohio and whether the Bobcats can get a few transfers eligible.

Welcome back those who fell off the radar

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Whether a highly ranked freshman or a highly regarded transfer, new roster additions often help fuel the excitement as basketball practices begin. They bring the feeling that a missing piece to a special season just showed up.

Before celebrating those new arrivals, try to think beyond the Twitter-induced attention deficit we've been reduced to and remember the players who were sidetracked. Some were sidelined by injuries and in some cases academic missteps, but their returns could mean a big boost from familiar faces.

Don’t call it a comeback. They have been on campus at least a year, but they have been off the court just long enough to be forgotten.

Not for much longer, though. Here are 10 players whose returns should have an immediate impact:

[+] EnlargeMichael Cobbins
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma State's Michael Cobbins, returning from an Achilles tendon injury, will provide a much-needed inside presence for the Cowboys.
Brandon Ashley, Arizona

The 6-foot-8 forward started the first 22 games for the Wildcats until a foot injury ended his season. Ashley, who averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, had to watch the remaining 16 games, including their Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. His return is a reason why the Wildcats are considered a Final Four contender.

Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State

It seemed like Cobbins’ torn Achilles after starting the first 13 games began the Cowboys' downslide last season. The 6-8 forward’s return will add a shot-blocking presence and some stability to a roster that has undergone a big overhaul.

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

The 6-5 guard carried the Irish offensively, averaging 19.0 points per game, before he was sidelined by an academic issue after just 12 games last season. Grant is one of only two seniors on the roster and should keep the Irish from having to concede to a rebuilding season.

Kevin Ware, Georgia State

The 6-2 guard gained national acclaim when he recovered from a broken leg suffered in the 2013 Elite Eight in time to start the 2013-14 season for Louisville. It was a short-lived return as he played just nine games before he was accidentally kicked in the same leg and his season was over. Ware transferred to Georgia State, where he received a waiver to play immediately.

DaJuan Coleman, Syracuse

Injuries have been a part of Coleman’s first two seasons with the Orange. The 6-9 forward, who has started 32 games in his career, missed the final 21 games last season because of a left leg injury. Even if he stays healthy, Coleman won’t be a big scorer, but what he does bring is experience and toughness to the lineup.

Roosevelt Jones, Butler

The 6-4 junior had started 67 straight games for the Bulldogs before a wrist injury sidelined him for the entire 2013-14 season. Prior to his injury, Jones led Butler in assists (3.5), was second in rebounds (5.6) and was third in scoring (10.1) during the 2012-13 season.

Durand Johnson, Pittsburgh

The Panthers will need more scoring now that Cameron Wright is out 10 weeks with a foot injury. Johnson, a 6-6 junior forward, could help fill that void. He averaged 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in a sixth-man role last season before missing the final 20 games with a knee injury.

Josh Smith, Georgetown

The 6-10 center transferred from UCLA but played only 13 games before being declared academically ineligible in January. Smith, who shot 65 percent from the field and averaged 11.5 points per game last season, regained his eligibility. But conditioning remains a question for Smith, who is listed at 350 pounds. He will be a sorely needed low-post presence if he can stay on the floor.

Allerik Freeman, Baylor

The 6-3 guard initially signed with UCLA to play for Ben Howland but was given his release when Howland was fired. A preseason wrist injury that kept him inactive for most of the 2013-14 nonconference schedule made the decision to redshirt him an easy one.

Elijah Macon, West Virginia

The 6-8 forward was ranked in the top 50 in 2012 but has been sidetracked while trying to gain eligibility. He spent 2012-13 at Brewster Academy Prep School, and last season he still did not gain eligibility and could not participate with the team. Now that he is cleared, Macon could bring some balance to the perimeter-heavy Mountaineers.

3-point shot: Self going smaller at Kansas

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Andy Katz discusses Bill Self's plan for going small at Kansas, teams that could challenge the Jayhawks in the Big 12 and Arizona coach Sean Miller's belief about nonconference schedules.

3-point shot: OU a threat in Big 12

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26

Andy Katz looks at the key points that may make Oklahoma a Big 12 contender.

Monte Morris no longer little Man-Man

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
As is often the case with these sorts of things, Latonia Morris had no idea she was crafting a new identity for her little boy on that day all those years ago.

Then the junior varsity basketball coach at Beecher High School in Flint, Michigan, Morris watched as her 4-year-old son, Monte, tried to execute a left-handed layup.

“He could do the steps, but he couldn’t get the ball up to the basket," Latonia remembered. “I said, ‘Oh, he’s just a little man-man.'"

Go to Flint today and ask for Monte Morris and you might get a raised eyebrow. Correct yourself and request "Man-Man" Morris and folks will nod knowingly.

Soon, the nickname might extend across state lines. Man-Man is now a man, a 19-year-old sophomore at Iowa State and, by the end of this season, he very well could be The Man.

[+] EnlargeMonte Morris
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesMonte Morris matured tremendously during his freshman season at Iowa State and is expected to be the man to lead the Cyclones in 2014-15.
After setting an NCAA record with a 4.79 assist-to-turnover ratio (an eye-popping 6.9 in Big 12 games) in an off-guard/backup role for the Cyclones, Man-Man will be the full-time point guard for Fred Hoiberg’s team, in charge of guiding a squad that is built on Hoiberg’s familiar recipe for success -- combining immediate impact transfers with hard-working recruits.

Man-Man will have at his disposal a healthy and newly slimmed-down Georges Niang, plus senior Dustin Hogue, UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones and Northern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader. That roster will only spark the expectations of a fervent fan base that has been enjoying the sweet (16) taste of success under Hoiberg, and wishing for more.

“We’ve only had two workouts with the whole team, but in the two practices that we’ve had, his group is so much further ahead and that’s because of him," Hoiberg said. “He puts everybody in the right spot all the time. He’s just so smart, he understands angles and he has such a great feel for making the right play."

He has always been that way, treating the ball like an extension of himself. Latonia remembers cooking in the kitchen while Man-Man hoisted pretend layups over her head, and conversations held while he distractedly dribbled an invisible ball at his hip. In the summer, the staccato drumbeats of a bouncing ball were almost like white noise in the house.

Not that she minded. Latonia, who raised Monte by herself, was an opportunist as a basketball player much like her son. Only 5-foot-2, she played the point and scored when needed, topping 1,000 points in her high school career.

She still has a pretty good shot, but since her son learned how to dunk, she has bagged real games of one-on-one in exchange for Pop-A-Shot throwdowns. There are even his and hers videos of mother and son going at it on Instagram.

Knowing that his size might be a hindrance, Latonia encouraged her son, whose talent was recognized early by area coaches, to play up in order to get better. So for the better part of his life, Man-Man was the youngest and the smallest kid on his team -- a fifth grader among eighth graders, a seventh grader going toe to toe with high schoolers.

“They were always that much faster and stronger than me, so I had to find different ways to protect the ball," Man-Man said. “They would shoot the gaps faster, steal the ball more, so that showed me at a young age what passes not to make. That just stayed with me."

Growing up in Flint, there are, of course, two college options for a basketball-playing kid: Michigan or Michigan State. The Spartans, whose Flintstones -- Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell and Morris Peterson -- led MSU to the 2000 championship, were tops in Man-Man’s heart, so much so that he’d visit most weekends and declared at an early age that he, too, would play in East Lansing.

Only trouble, Michigan State never really recruited him eagerly. Man-Man was good in high school -- he’d eventually lead Beecher to back-to-back state titles and three times earn Class C player of the year -- but the 160 pounds stretched across a tiny 6-foot-1 frame didn’t look much like a Big Ten body.

Rejected by Michigan State, he looked across the state toward Ann Arbor, where John Beilein did show interest. By his junior year, Man-Man was ready to become a Wolverine.

And then Derrick Walton beat him to it, pledging to Michigan early.

“That was my only real chance to stay in Michigan," Man-Man said.

Admittedly disappointed, he turned his attention to Iowa State. Hoiberg sold Man-Man on the chance to make an immediate impact and called on the Cyclones' surprisingly successful pipeline from Flint to Ames, dating back to Johnny Orr’s days, when the ex-Michigan head coach brought his recruiting ties to Iowa. Jeff Grayer, Barry Stevens, and Justus Thigpen are all Flint natives and all rank among Iowa State’s top scorers.

Man-Man made a verbal commitment the June before his senior year. That season he would lead Beecher to its second state title, earn Michigan Mr. Basketball honors as well as a Parade All-American nod.

And then along came his breakout freshman season, one that surprised even Hoiberg. Man-Man wasn’t even a starter in Iowa State’s first 19 games, but eventually Hoiberg realized “we couldn’t afford to not have him on the floor," and Man-Man moved into the first five in the final 17 games.

Take that, Michigan and Michigan State.

“For sure," Man-Man admitted. “A lot of people weren’t sure I could play at this level and then I went out there in the Big 12 and held my own. I felt like I showed the country some glimpses of what I can do."

From her vantage point in Flint, Latonia saw the glimpses, too -- the double-digit scoring in the three NCAA tournament games, only 17 turnovers in those 17 games as a starter.

But hers weren’t just a peek into her son’s basketball success.

For the better par of Man-Man’s childhood, Latonia spent every weekend traveling from one AAU tournament to the next. Though she would have liked it if her son had stayed close to home for college, in a way she also was happy. She knew the strings between mother and son were strong and perhaps better sliced, if not altogether severed.

He needed his independence and to find his own footing, so she dialed back her travel in his senior year of high school, preparing Man-Man for the inevitable -- when college came and mom was 600 miles away.

The beginning of his Iowa State career wasn’t easy. DeAndre Kane pulled no punches with the rookie -- “He’d walk in the gym and say, ‘It’s gonna be a long one, freshman," Man-Man remembered -- and even for a guy accustomed to playing up, the adjustment was real.

“He’d bump into me, post me up, elbow me," Man-Man said. “There was nothing I could do about it. He had me by 40 pounds. I wasn’t ready for that."

Man-Man took his lumps stoically and did what he always has done. He kept working, using his brain to make up for his lack of brawn, attacking practice and the weight room, becoming so invaluable to Hoiberg that the coach altered his lineup to get him in the game.

The player who will lead the Cyclones this season is a changed one, not only in body (he’s up to 175 pounds) but also in name.

“I noticed that our conversations started to change maybe in the middle of the school year," Latonia said. “I could tell in his voice and what he was talking about, he had matured. He grew up. He wasn’t really Man-Man anymore. He was Monte."

Or perhaps simply, a man.

3-point shot: Final Four going West?

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
Andy Katz looks at the NCAA selection committee reviewing Final Four sites, coaching USA basketball teams and winning waivers for Georgia Tech.
Josh Pastner was making about $1.7 million per year before he signed a sizable extension last year.

He can afford the finer things in life. But Memphis’ head coach has been loyal to this old flip phone for years.

Josh Pastner phone
Courtesy of Josh PastnerDespite buying a new iPhone, Memphis coach Josh Pastner is still fond of his old-school flip phone.
 Everything changed, however, when Pastner recently decided to upgrade to an iPhone. The Twitterverse has been abuzz with news that the 36-year-old coach had finally embraced the 21st century and purchased a smartphone. But Pastner still loves his old school, flip phone. His new phone -- an iPhone 5 -- is essentially a storage device right now, he said.

Pastner decided to make the change once he reached his flip phone’s max of 999 contacts. But you won’t find the flip phone on eBay.

“Still got [the] flip,” he told ESPN.com. “Just added iPhone. Flip could not add any more contacts.”

Well, it’s a start. And Pastner didn’t stop there.

He also joined Twitter on Tuesday (@5050ballswins). He’s already up to 700-plus followers. But he still has the standard Twitter egg profile pic, and he hasn’t tweeted yet.

“I’m not a Twitter guy,” he said.

This, however, is how it all began for most of us.

Soon, he’ll be taking selfies on Instagram and sharing his favorite recipes on Pinterest.

“I have a long way to go with it all,” he said. “I still am most comfortable with my flip phone.”

Then again, maybe not.
In 2013, A.J. Hammons threw his hefty 7-foot frame around the paint in West Lafayette, Indiana, and amassed 30 points (10-for-14) and five blocks against eventual lottery pick Cody Zeller. That day, the Hoosiers thrashed their rival 97-60.

The lone gem for a Boilermakers squad still sifting through the rubble in the post-Robbie Hummel era was the performance of a young man who finally looked the part of a Big Ten breakout star and future NBA draftee.

"It felt pretty good, and it just showed me what I can do if I put my mind to it and stop thinking and just go out and play," Hammons told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargePurdue's A.J. Hammons
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesLast season A.J. Hammons averaged 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.
But that scene and others like it were never woven into a complete feature film for the big man with big talent but a shaky path that has placed him in college basketball's potential pile.

Two seasons later, the perennial questions about Hammons remain: When will the best A.J. Hammons emerge? Will we ever see it?

"I haven't even seen it myself yet, to tell you the truth," he said. "It's something I'm waiting on too."

Potential remains one of the most obscure words in sports. It's a blanket term for a pool of athletes who could be, should be, might be, will be and may be, if their work ethic somehow merges with the mental commitment and persistence that all elite achievement demands.

That's how you get an Anthony Davis. That's how you get a Victor Oladipo. A Trey Burke.

If there is a gap within those elements, however, then potential becomes a term befitting of the folks who never quite got there -- "there" being a fluctuating peak that's not always plausible.

But that's how you get a Michael Olowokandi. A Darko Milicic. Ndudi Ebi. Taylor King.

A.J. Hammons?

We're still waiting on what he could be. Hammons is listed as the No. 51 pro prospect, according to ESPN's Chad Ford, but he has floated in and out of the first round in mock drafts for the past few seasons. He led the Big Ten in blocks last year (3.1 BPG) but also finished 64th overall in Ken Pomeroy's individual offensive ratings for the league.

Sure, he dropped 18 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocks in his team's 78-69 loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State on New Year's Eve last season. But he accrued just seven points and one rebound in 22 minutes of action in a loss at Minnesota six days later. That's the pattern that has hindered a young (potential) star throughout his career.

An early-season, three-game suspension last year didn't help negative perceptions about him.

Hammons might be ready to justify the hype, though. He has turned to a diet that features more portions of chicken, rice and broccoli. He is down to 258 pounds and determined to stay there. He has worked on his outside shot throughout the offseason and worked to develop "two or three moves" that can't be stopped.

"He's got a chance to affect the game on both ends of the floor," Purdue's Matt Painter said. "He has a chance to be one of the better big men in our league."

In a recent conversation with ESPN.com about Hammons and the 2014-15 season, Painter used the word consistency five times.

Painter's crew doesn't just want Hammons to peak. It is desperate for it.

"Just showing his motor," Painter said. "He has to sprint, not jog. NBA scouts, they question his motor. … That consistency. Every single day is a game day. Did he give that type of effort in between those games?"

Current projections position Purdue toward the bottom of a Big Ten that will feature the typical seven or eight NCAA tourney-worthy squads and three or four squads that will swallow a contender or two at their building. That's not good for Purdue or Painter.

The two top scorers from last season, Terone Johnson and Ronnie Johnson, left West Lafayette via graduation and transfer, respectively. The Boilermakers finished in last place in the Big Ten in 2013-14 and suffered their second consecutive losing campaign for the first time in 60 years. Now, a roster stitched together by youth and inexperience will rely on Hammons, a junior, to lead.

"You just gotta take it as a challenge and just push every day," Hammons said. "It's going to be very important for me to be a leader. Me, being one of the most experienced players on the team, I have to help everybody else out."

Purdue will rise only if Hammons does first.

"I think it's frustrating for [his teammates] because they know how he can impact the team," Painter said. "He gives us hope because he's made a lot of improvement. He's really responded. I think he'll make a big jump."

He's searching. He feels all those eyes scrutinizing his actions. He hears Painter and his teammates encouraging, pushing and pleading. He's not naive to the urgent cry to mollify a fan base that's uncomfortable with its recent lows.

That's also the obstacle. The whole process begins internally. Desire isn't the issue. Hammons wants to ball so hard every night.

But will he?

The answer might be the difference between an A.J. Hammons who will fight for Big Ten player of the year honors plus a first-round slot in next summer's draft and the young man who could end his time at Purdue with the other talented players who could have, would have, should have.

"That next step is … I have the motivation. It's just I have to show it," he said. "And that's just … that's just a factor, I don't know. It just happens [in games]. It just happens."

"Try not to let people down," he added, "I guess."

Nah, A.J.

Try not to let yourself down.

3-point shot: Preseason leaders

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
Andy Katz looks at the preseason leaders at Arkansas, St. John's and Alabama.
Separating from Duke for nearly two months to coach USA Basketball wasn’t easy for Mike Krzyzewski this time simply because he is used to doing it. Several factors kept his absence from campus from having a negative impact on the Blue Devils.

It started with Krzyzewski's belief that the incoming freshman class of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen were mature beyond their years.

"The freshmen are not freshmen, they’re Duke basketball players," Krzyzewski said. "There’s not that differentiation. That doesn’t happen all the time. That doesn’t happen most of the time. But with this group it has."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose and Mike Krzyzewski
David Dow/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith a mature group of incoming freshmen, assistants Nate James and Jon Scheyer running things at Duke and top assistant Jeff Capel with him overseas, Mike Krzyzewski was able to focus on Team USA without worrying about his program.
The maturation of his assistants Nate James and Jon Scheyer to run the program also freed up associate head coach Jeff Capel to join him in Spain. Initially, Krzyzewski planned to leave Capel in charge domestically. Capel was so sure he wasn’t going abroad that he didn’t get the vaccine shot given to those who were traveling for an exhibition in Africa.

But Krzyzewski wanted Capel in Spain in part to help bridge any communication gaps with the national team staff and players and "to make sure I kept a connection with what was going on at Duke."

"You kind of get into a tunnel, a cave where really you don’t know what the heck is going on," Krzyzewski said.

Capel made sure he stayed informed. He immediately made sure they changed their phone plans so that international texts and calls wouldn’t leave the school with astronomical charges.

Krzyzewski and Capel addressed the team in Durham via Skype on their last day in New York City before leaving for Spain. They spelled out expectations including the plans for "Duke Basketball Orientation," a series of exercises to promote team-building and bonding. Krzyzewski didn’t leave the players with a bunch of rules, but made sure they understood the program’s standards.

"Standards are better than rules because standards you own, rules you follow, they may not be yours," he said. "With a standard you hope that it becomes yours. If a group has ownership of a certain way of doing things, they’re much better able to be successful I think."

Krzyzewski said he had confidence that James and Scheyer could run things in his absence, but that he "just didn’t know how far along the team would be."

Capel communicated with James and Scheyer daily to gauge the pulse of the team or recruiting needs. Capel said he also browsed social media outlets including Twitter and Instagram to stay up on the latest recruiting rumors and happenings.

Krzyzewski often got his Duke news around Team USA’s practice schedule. Capel would grab his attention on the way to practice or when it was just finished. Sometimes it would be after watching game tape and sometimes even after dinner when there was downtime.

"What we do as assistants -- and what I think any good assistant does -- is you figure out when to tell your boss certain things," Capel said.

The updates didn’t come every day, but Capel was consistent with the smallest of details. He informed Krzyzewski of birthdays or would mention when a text to a recruit or current player would be timely.

"A lot of times he’d already know without me saying something to him," Capel said.

Because of the six-hour time difference, Krzyzewski conducted most of his Duke business at night in Spain. He would review film after their games so he was used to sending texts after midnight, although for the recipients it would be after 6 p.m. Eastern time.

It helped that Duke already had two recruits -- center Chase Jeter and guard Luke Kennard -- make their verbal commitments before Krzyzewski left the states. That meant he didn’t have as many recruits to pursue. It also helped compensate for him missing a week’s worth of time he could be back on the road recruiting in September.

Krzyzewski, who has coached the national team since 2005, pointed out the Blue Devils veterans -- guard Quinn Cook and forward Amile Jefferson -- helped ease the transition for the freshmen.

That made seeing the first practice after his return home a pleasant surprise for Krzyzewski.

"I was just like, 'whoa, wow' this is really good," he said. "This is really good."
Andy Katz looks at the surge in season ticket sales at Auburn and SMU and previews rising leaders in the preseason at Dayton and Baylor.