The Final Four can make you say and think and do crazy things. In fact, for many players, it’s the most pressure-packed environment they’ve ever been in.
And yet, Wisconsin doesn’t seem to notice.
Do we recall a team ever being this loose during college basketball’s final weekend?
“Yeah, I sure can. UNLV – and they lost,” Westwood One broadcaster Jim Gray said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “They were just happy, loose, fancy and free and they thought they were going to win it all – and they had a great team. I think they kind of took it for granted back in ’91. They were just happy-go-lucky, and it got away from them. Duke played a perfect game and beat them. That’s about the only thing I can think of, but this is a much different group than that one that was assembled with Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Larry Jonson and so forth.”
To be fair to Wisconsin – and to Duke – freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones have been fairly unflappable as well. Gottlieb feels it’s because they are “main court” players – guys who were always the center of attention regardless of when and where they played before college. As a result, nothing fazes them.
“Yeah, I think that’s a good assessment,” Gray said. “I think that’s accurate. Some of these young men play in two or three high schools. They just keep moving around until they get the right high school that can win so that they can get more exposure and more experience. So they’re used to moving around. Plus, they’re used to being on TV and Twitter. So it’s not like it’s new for them when they get this attention. Yes, it’s new to play in front of 72,000 people and have the nation watching. That’s new for all of them. But these freshmen that you speak of, yeah, they just grow up quicker. Everything’s done faster. So maybe they feel less pressure because it’s the new normal.”
And then there’s Mike Krzyzewski, who, at 68, is almost as old as four of his starters combined. He also tied John Wooden for most career Final Fours this season (12) and is gunning for his fifth national title.
Gray taped an interview with Krzyzewski that will air before tonight’s game.
“He said two things that really stood out,” Gray said. “He said, ‘I’m not into counting. I’m into doing. So all this stuff about tying John Wooden – there’s only one John Wooden.’ But he’s energized. The interesting thing that he said was, ‘Look, this experience isn’t for me. I’m having a great experience watching these young men experiencing it for the first time – and knowing that the first time can last a lifetime.’ Look, he’s America’s coach. He’s totally unselfish, and he is really rejuvenated and invigorated and there’s an intensity here.
“Look, I see this in Tom Brady,” Gray continued. “He knows how hard it is to get there. He knows how fragile it is to lose it, and it’s just really, really hard. So when you have the opportunity, you’ve got to grab it and you’ve got to stay with your foot on the pedal the entire way – because if you let up for one second, it can all change in a heartbeat. I think that’s what Coach K sees. He’s 68 years old. How many more times can he do this? How much (longer) can he go out and recruit and get these kids? He’s always going to have players who want to come and play for him, but the game will change, I’m sure, when he gets to 70 years old. Bodies change. The fact that it’s just so important to him and he has this spirit and this drive, it’s really remarkable.”