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Watch for Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in this summer's Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, July 5, 2004

By Al Myatt

Herrion: 'Frustration' may pave K's way to LA


When East Carolina basketball coach Bill Herrion was an assistant at Boston University in 1986, he spent a week that summer working Mike Krzyzewski's camp at Duke.

Herrion said Sunday he wouldn't be surprised to see Coach K accept the offer dangled by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Herrion was faced with a similar decision on a smaller scale in 1999 after he had coached Drexel to a 121-32 record and three NCAA Tournament appearances over eight seasons.

"I think everybody gets to a point where you need a new challenge," said the Pirates coach. "For me personally, that was the No. 1 deciding factor. I felt like I needed a different challenge and new surroundings. Obviously there has to be a belief that you can build a program and that was exciting.

"If he was to accept the Lakers job, I wouldn't be surprised. If there ever was a time, I think this is it. I think he's reached a point that's got him frustrated. ... If he goes, I think the state of college basketball right now will have a lot to do with it. ...

"He also was adamantly against it when the ACC expanded. ... What he did a better job than anybody for a long time was he kept his guys there three or four years. That changed in that period when (Corey) Magette, (Elton) Brand and (William) Avery all left."

Duke's talent level took a severe hit this spring when forward Luol Deng opted for the NBA after his freshman season and Blue Devils signee Shaun Livingston made the jump straight from high school.

"College basketball is in a very dangerous position right now," Herrion said. "We don't have the luxury at East Carolina right now of worrying about kids leaving early, but college basketball in general needs something similar to what baseball or football have. ... When you lose players like Deng and Livingston in May, you can't go out and recruit another kid of that caliber. That's the culture we're in right now."

College football players can declare for the NFL after their junior season. Baseball drafts high school players but then leaves those who don't sign alone until after they have spent three years in college.

"I wouldn't want to come to season's end and wait two months for a kid to test the waters about whether he's going to make himself eligible for the draft or not," said the ECU coach. "That would be almost like the kid has you hostage."

In 24 years at Duke, Coach K has won three NCAA championships, and been "held hostage" numerous times in recent years.

"You look at what he's accomplished and it's borderline mind-boggling," Herrion said. "It's as close to John Wooden (former UCLA coach whose teams dominated college basketball in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s) as you're probably going to get. He may look at Larry Brown (Detroit Pistons coach) and say, 'You know what, he's won an NCAA championship and an NBA championship. Maybe I could do that.' "

But Herrion concedes that Brown isn't the only case study that Coach K should examine.

Former Wake Forest coach Bones McKinney said after a stint with the Carolina Cougars in the ABA that the only thing similar between college and pro coaching was the shape of the ball. There's a long list of college coaches who have failed to have the same degree of success in the NBA, a group that includes Rick Pitino, P.J. Carlesimo, Lon Krueger, John Calipari and Tim Floyd.

"If you can't communicate with the players in the pros and can't handle egos, you've got no shot," Herrion said. "I grew up a Celtics fan. When Rick Pitino left Kentucky and took that Boston job, I thought there was no way he wouldn't get it turned around. But they lost Tim Duncan on that ping-pong ball deal for the draft and three years later Rick was out of there. ... One thing Mike has going for him is that he's coached a lot of NBA-caliber players."

Part of the puzzle that Coach K may be trying to sort out in the decision-making process is just who he would be coaching. Big man Shaquille O'Neal has asked to be traded. Kobe Bryant may sign elsewhere if he isn't incarcerated on a sexual assault charge in Colorado. Karl Malone may retire.

"You can't win without players," Herrion said. "What's got to happen is for him to know he would have Shaq and Kobe. If the Lakers keep those two, then maybe it's a no brainer."

Bryant was playing on the high school level just outside of Philadelphia during the time Herrion was guiding Drexel there.

"His dad, Joe Bryant, was a former NBA player and he was an assistant coach at LaSalle," Herrion said. "If Kobe had gone to college, people said it was between LaSalle and Duke."

Bryant's insistence supposedly led Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, a former North Carolina and NBA standout, to fly across the country and offer Coach K a 5-year deal at $8 million annually. That's a lot of jack to consider, even when compared to his deal at Duke. There has been talk that a share of team ownership is in the package.

If Coach K heads west, Herrion said the schedule in the pros would require an adjustment.

"In college, you've got 30 games and everybody is rah-rah," Herrion said. "You can't approach 82 games in the pros at the same pace."

The Pirates coach expects his own program to be unaffected regardless of Coach K's ultimate choice.

"The top echelon kids in North Carolina, if they're good enough, usually want to play in the ACC," Herrion said. "Now that we're in a league like Conference USA, we've decided that we can't settle for the next level kid in the state. What's happened is that we've had to go national and be creative. If he stays or goes, I don't think that has an impact on what we're doing. It's very hard to dent that league (ACC) as much as we want to and our fans want to. It's a tough nut to crack."

Preliminary candidates who might be considered as successors if Coach K leaves Duke include Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a former Coach K assistant; Quin Snyder, a former Duke player who has boosted the program at Missouri despite some apparent NCAA difficulties; and Duke associate head coach Johnny Dawkins, a former Blue Devil All-American and NBA player.

For Herrion and the Pirates, Krzyzewski and Duke have represented a level of performance worthy of respect and emulation, just as they have for about 97 percent of the programs in Division I.

"He's obviously a phenomenal, phenomenal coach," Herrion said. "But what can he do? He's evaluated on whether he wins the national championship or not. I wish we were in a situation where we had kids leaving for the NBA. If you have those caliber of players, you're going to win."


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02/23/2007 12:45:58 AM

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