It might be difficult to believe now that Duke has become one of the most recognized brands in college basketball and Mike Krzyzewski has earned his niche as winningest coach in the history of the game, but there was a time early in his tenure with the Blue Devils in which Coach K’s job was anything but secure.
Battling to build his program and unhappy about what he perceived to be a bias toward his team’s rival North Carolina, the now Hall of Fame coach let his frustration be known after a loss to the Tar Heels in 1984.
Krzyzewski was angry that UNC coach Dean Smith wasn’t assessed a technical when he slammed his fist on the scorer’s table, causing a stoppage in play and sparking a late Tar Heels comeback.
“There’s a double standard in this league,” Krzyzewski said that night. “One for Dean Smith and one for the rest of us. It’s not right.”
What does this have to do with East Carolina, you ask?
It’s because by getting ejected from the Pirates’ game against Houston at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday, then lashing out at the officiating — though in a much more passive aggressive way than Krzyzewski did all those year ago — coach Joe Dooley made the same kind of statement to the rest of the American Athletic Conference.
“I’ll take partial responsibilities and I think there are some other parties that should take partial responsibilities,” Dooley said after the game. “(I’m) very unhappy our fans had to witness it. (It’s the) first time in 31 years I’ve gotten tossed.
“I’ll be quite honest, I’m sick of it,” he added. “We’re not getting sand kicked in our face anymore. We’re going to stand up and play the right way, referee the right way, play the right way. All parties, we need to play better, they need to ref better.”
This is not to suggest that Dooley felt as though the Cougars’ Kelvin Sampson was getting preferential treatment or that the men in stripes cost his team the game. ECU was trailing by 16 when he was hit with two technicals and shown the door with just under 18 minutes remaining.
Nor does it mean that this incident will become the springboard that catapults ECU into basketball prominence and helps Dooley get to the Hall of Fame. We all know how unlikely that is.
But by calling attention to what he believed was a disparity in the way the game was being called — one that benefitted the nationally-ranked team at the expense of the perennial AAC bottomfeeder — Dooley let it be known that the status quo is no longer acceptable.
While it’s still up to the Pirates to earn the respect they want by upgrading their talent level, playing better and ultimately winning more games, Dooley made it clear that at the very least, his team deserves a fair shake in their effort to start turning things around.
Dooley, in the first year of his second stint as ECU’s head coach, may actually have begun that process simply by being ejected on Wednesday.
His ouster put him in some lofty company among conference coaches, including Sampson, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Connecticut’s Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith — all of whom have been sent to the showers early this season after being assessed two technicals in a game by AAC refs.
Still, there’s a lot of work left to do.
That was evident in the box score from Sunday’s 91-78 loss at Tulsa, a game that dropped ECU’s record to 10-17 (3-12 AAC). The Pirates were called for 21 fouls to just 10 for the Golden Hurricane, a disparity that allowed Tulsa to make seven more free throws (17) than ECU attempted (10).
It’s obviously going to take more than just an ejection and a postgame speech pointing out a perceived double standard in the way the haves and have nots are treated by AAC officials for the Pirates to become competitive on the hardwood.
It’s more important that ECU concentrate on the things it can control. Things such as a continued commitment to strength and conditioning, becoming more familiar with Dooley’s system and surrounding freshman building block Jayden Gardner with more and better players.
At the same time, a tree can’t grow or blossom until a seed is planted.
Consider that seed officially planted.