College Basketball -- Duke's Image Tarnished
In the increasingly befouled waters of college basketball, one program has meticulously cultivated and proudly celebrated its reputation as an island of probity.
Duke is the place where Good Kids go to learn, to grow, to graduate and to win a few championships on the side. The home of the four-year player. The Shangri-La built by Coach Mike Krzyzewski. An oasis of cohesion and teamwork where the Big Picture is kept in perspective and the big problems of modern basketball are kept at bay.
Try selling that reputation to Ken Burgess and Terry Simonton.
They are the parents of former Duke players. Ken is the father of Chris Burgess, a high-school All-American who recently transferred to Utah. Simonton is the mother of William Avery, another blue-chip recruit who went to Duke for two years, then into the NBA as a first-round draft choice last month.
In contrast to Duke's powerful Happy Family aura comes a spoonful of dysfunction from two parents.
In early July, Ken Burgess unloaded on Krzyzewski to The Courier-Journal, accusing the coach of:
- Telling him "blatant lies" about his son's role and playing time.
- Vindictive behavior toward Avery after the point guard chose to turn pro against Krzyzewski's advice.
"He's petty and he's dishonest," Ken Burgess said. "But he has been successful being that way."
Chris Burgess could not be reached for comment.
Simonton voiced her dissatisfaction with the 19-year Duke coach, her complaints centering on Krzyzewski's response to Avery's pro decision - especially when the coach earlier applauded teammate Elton Brand's similar action.
"Coach K is selfish, he really is," Simonton said. "He wants what's best for him. He says it's for (the players). It's not. It's not."
Responding in part through Duke's sports-information director, Mike Cragg, Krzyzewski said: "The one thing I always am with my kids, I tell the truth. And I will always continue to do that."
Of the two players, he said, "I love William. I have been and always will be supportive of him and all he does. I also wish Chris the best."
The broadsides from Burgess and Simonton compound the offseason problems that have buffeted Krzyzewski since his Blue Devils were upset by Connecticut in the NCAA title game.
The home of the four-year player saw three of its stars jump to the NBA as sophomores or freshmen. Then it saw the 6-foot-10 Burgess - one of the nation's top five high-school players in 1997 but slow to develop at Duke - turn his back on what figured to be increased playing time next season.
And a former star recruit's wealthy father - "I don't think (No. 1 draft choice) Elton Brand will make as much in a pro career as I do, OK?" Ken Burgess boasted - is firing heavy dirt clods.
Burgess , who has an herbal business and an Internet company and also is involved in the movie industry, depicts Duke - or at least its coach - as being flawed just like the rest of college basketball.
Certainly his vitriol must be viewed with caution, coming from an aggrieved parent.
Ken Burgess said Chris was unhappy after his freshman season, in which the center from Irvine, Calif., averaged only 4.3 points and 12.6 minutes, starting just three of 36 games. The Burgesses told Krzyzewski then that Chris intended to transfer.
"Chris was leaving," he said. "He said, `I'm not going to play ahead of Shane (Battier). There's a relationship he has with Coach K.' . . .
"If you aren't on his good side, he doesn't fix that. If you are, you can do no wrong. It's like Shane Battier - he can't do anything wrong. Trajan (Langdon) couldn't make a mistake. Wojo (point guard Steve Wojciechowski) was like that the year before. If he hadn't stuck with Wojo, Duke would have beaten Kentucky (in the 1998 NCAA Tournament).
"He has no sons, and he picks one of the boys to be his son, and he can do no wrong. Even the players on the team called Shane `Shane Krzyzewski."'
Ken Burgess said when they told Krzyzewski that Chris was going to transfer after his freshman season, the coach promised he would move into the starting lineup alongside classmates Battier and Brand and would play comparable minutes.
"We didn't ask for any (assurances of playing time)," Burgess said. "Coach K volunteered it. . . . He told Chris, `You're starting next year. We're going three big (on the front line).' "
In Duke's 39 games last season, the "three big" lineup never materialized as a starting unit.
Avery acknowledged that his postseason meeting with Krzyzewski at the coach's house, accompanied by Simonton, had ended in acrimony over his decision to turn pro.
A statement released by Duke after the April 15 decision quoted Krzyzewski as saying: "I'm not in favor of William's decision at this time. We've done extensive research into the NBA for William, and my conclusion was that entering the draft now would not be in his best interests.
"However, everyone is entitled to make their own decisions. I certainly wish him the ultimate success in his future endeavors."
The statement was in stark contrast to Krzyzewski's endorsement of Brand's announcement the previous day.
Brand's news conference was in Cameron. Krzyzewski, who was home recovering from hip replacement surgery, spoke on a speaker phone and called Brand's decision "absolutely a no-brainer."
There was no news conference for Avery. Simonton said her son was told by a Duke official that "under the conditions you're leaving and the school's position on it, it might be better to have your press conference with your family at home."
Cragg said Duke wanted Avery to "be somewhere where you can have a celebration of your decision. . . . Nobody was, quote, celebrating the decision here at Duke."
Avery held his news conference four days later at a community center in his hometown of Augusta, Ga.
"I was shocked," he told The Charlotte Observer later, referring to Krzyzewski's statement. "It's a disagreement, (but) we don't hate each other or anything like that. It did give me more motivation to work hard."
It was the culmination of a rocky post-Final Four period for Avery and Krzyzewski.
Avery said Krzyzewski told him in a previous meeting that he probably would be drafted between 18th and 25th and should stay in school.
Bearup said that when Avery called with his decision, he told him, "There's a good chance you're the fifth point guard, but this is a point guard draft."
Bearup believed Avery would go higher than Krzyzewski's forecast, and he was right. Avery was the 14th pick, selected by Minnesota.
Asked if he thought Krzyzewski shot straight with him about his draft prospects, Avery said, "I don't think he did." Asked why, he said, "I think he wanted me to stay."
Despite the messy parting, the 19-year-old said he harbors no ill will for his former coach.
"I think if I needed something or called him for something, he'd be willing to do it," Avery said.
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