(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jalen Rose on Duke, Coach K on Jalen Rose

A mentor once said, "clarity can be offensive."

No further do we have to look than the ESPN documentary on the Fab Five, in which Jalen Rose was blunt and honest about how he felt about Duke at the time he was recruited. For me, it was raw data, an unguarded assessment as to what a poor kid from Detroit must have felt at the time of his recruitment. Nothing more, nothing less, and, yes, I inferred from his inflection and tone that Jalen a) didn't necessarily think that what he thought then was actually the case then or is the case now and b) that Jalen realized that he was expressing jealousy over what he didn't have.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski responded, defending his turf, laying into Rose, and also digging into the Fab Five by saying that they didn't establishing anything at Michigan the way the teams under his auspices have. Fair enough, I suppose, because Coach K hasn't ascended to the top of the collegiate coaching ladder by breaking out tea and crumpets and singing "Kumbaya" with Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, John Calipari or anyone else who might get in his way. So, there, I'm being blunt too -- with some exceptions, there's a little bit of a tough guy/jerk at times in those who get to where Coach K gets. There has to be -- because these guys know what they want and where they want to go, and sometimes you have to go out there and "take" your turf, even if it means hurting someone's feelings.

And I can definitely see where the Grant Hills and Jayson Williamses of the world are ticked, because Rose made some comments that weren't fair. I get that. And, as peers, age-wise, of Rose, I figure that they get the right to say their peace. What's amusing to me is that Coach K couldn't have left it with, "Listen, he was a great player, he's a heck of a competitor, and he was reflecting on what he felt as a teenager. We've all said things during those years that we're not proud of, and I'm sure that this wasn't Jalen Rose's finest moment."

Leadership. Defense. High Road. Defense. Retaliation. Turn the Other Cheek. When you do what is sometimes tough to determine. When you do what, though, says a lot about you too. Coach K is a very accomplished coach, very successful. Hill and Williams were great players, as was Rose. What I saw in the documentary -- and what I thought the filmmakers must have loved -- is that Rose took off the varnish and said how he felt. He didn't sanitize it, and I think that's okay because he was being truthful as to what he thought at the time. That said, I suppose that it's hard for me to say that Coach K should have acted one way (not responding) and Rose the other (being blunt). Then again, Rose was reflecting on the thoughts of an eighteen year-old, and that's what made his statements so compelling. Documentaries can expose raw nerves. They're not always fair. And this one got out in the open perhaps what many others had thought in different ways -- that the Duke program was "perfect", that everyone said so, and that if you weren't part of the "perfect" kids you somehow were a lesser being.

It's not that people don't respect the Duke program -- how can you not? It's just that they might not like it all that much because of the perception that it's perfect and the rest of us are not. And we all need a Duke to chase, shoot for, try to beat -- most of us do. I recall being in my school system and always hearing how x, y and z were the smartest kids and were touted as such. Well, they were bright, but who were certain teachers to decide that x, y and z were the best and the rest of us didn't measure up. That ticked me off, and I was determined to use them as a benchmark and a motivator to beat them. And a bunch of the times I did, if only by hard work and sheer force of will. I respect those guys to this day, but I didn't appreciate being told that I wasn't as good as them.

The thing of it was, for Jalen Rose and the Fab Five, that they were as good as Duke, if not better. They had the talent, but they just couldn't quite win a national title while playing for Michigan. They had great careers, but they didn't get the championship ring. There's a story in that, too, which is that the x's, y'z and z's are that good, very good, and, sometimes, they are better. That's life, whether you like the Dukes of the world or not. That people are still talking about this topic means that the documentary filmmakers were onto something and did their job. As for Jalen Rose, he's done all right for himself, proving that the world is big enough for Duke and non-Duke players alike.


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