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K’s former Duke players anchor tree of success across hoops

By Erik Spanberg

The coaching (and executive) tree of Coach K is a big part of his legacy, along with the national titles and winning more games than anyone else in the history of NCAA men’s basketball.

But looking at Quin Snyder and Tommy Amaker and Billy King, among many others, might be the wrong place to start.

“The program went in the toilet after I left,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas told Sports Business Journal, referring to his tenure as an assistant coach under Krzyzewski. “My three years there we went to the NCAA championship game every year. And that is not a coincidence.”

Bilas was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but may the record reflect that he was, in fact, an assistant on Krzyzewski’s staff for the 1989-90, 1990-91, and 1991-92 seasons while earning his law degree at Duke. And in those years, respectively, Duke lost to UNLV in the championship game, beat Kansas to win its first national title, and then repeated by knocking off Michigan.

While Bilas practiced law and, later, started a broadcasting career, plenty of his peers and players from Coach K’s subsequent teams went on to make significant marks as college and NBA coaches, assistant coaches, and executives.

Look at the mid-80s teams that included Bilas: David Henderson is a scout with the Cleveland Cavaliers; Tommy Amaker is the current head coach at Harvard; Quin Snyder, as coach of the Utah Jazz, has his team in the top half of the NBA’s Western Conference this season; Johnny Dawkins, after leading Stanford from 2008 to 2016, now coaches the University of Central Florida; Billy King was GM of both the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets; and Danny Ferry was GM of both the Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks as well as interim GM and, later, front-office advisor with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The current Sixers GM is Elton Brand, who played at Duke in the late 90s. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is assistant GM with the Golden State Warriors, while Shane Battier is a consultant with the Miami Heat.

Coach K’s successor, Jon Scheyer, played for Krzyzewski and is currently Duke’s top assistant coach. Bobby Hurley, the point guard on Duke’s dominant early-90s teams, is Arizona State’s head coach; Grant Hill is a minority owner of the Hawks; and Trajan Langdon is GM of the Pelicans. Mike Brey, Notre Dame’s head coach since 2000, is a former Krzyzewski assistant. Other college head coaches who played at Duke for Coach K include Jeff Capel (Pitt), Chris Collins (Northwestern), Kenny Blakeney (Howard) and Greg Paulus (Niagara).

What does Bilas make of this sequoia-sized coaching tree?

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “I know all of those guys (and what they can do).”

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