Best story lost, best team won and Coach K won’t be swayed by $15 million
By David Haugh
INDIANAPOLIS — In the movie, Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot at the buzzer goes in and Butler achieves college basketball immortality Monday night in the NCAA championship game.
In the script, Hayward even may have hit the fade-away jumper first, with seven seconds left, that would have given the Bulldogs a one-point lead and probably the unlikeliest of national titles.
But life was crueler than art to this bunch of Hoosiers.
Duke 61, Butler 59.
"This was a classic," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "This was the toughest and the best one ... a historic game."
So it will not be the end of the college basketball world as we know it after all. Angelo Pizzo will have to base his sequel on another team, another time. Try as Butler did, this one couldn't supply the Hollywood ending most of America outside Durham, N.C., wanted.
But what delicious drama the Bulldogs did provide.
History will record this outcome as Krzyzewski's fourth national title, which makes Krzyzewski the most accomplished college basketball coach not named John Wooden. It's human to remember this as the NCAA final Butler nearly won with a desperation, half-court heave at the buzzer.
Has a program that lost a game ever won so much national respect?
"It's hard to stomach," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "These guys gave every single thing they had. . . . They came within one shot of winning the national title."
When it was over, after Hayward's prayer bounced off the glass and off the rim, Duke guard Jon Scheyer embraced every teammate and clutched his head as if he were trying to get a grip on what just happened. Then Scheyer skipped over near the press table and pointed to his parents, Jim and Laury, with a grin that suggested the previous 40 minutes had made the last four years worth any adversity he overcame.
"I don't think at the beginning of the season many people said we could win the national championship," Scheyer said. "I don't think any of us seniors could have predicted the four years we would have here."
This was the moment Scheyer left the state of Illinois from Glenbrook North to experience, the success he thought was more possible at Duke than any other program that recruited him. This was the promise fulfilled by Krzyzewski and Duke assistant Chris Collins, who hugged Scheyer as confetti fell on the Lucas Oil Stadium floor.
Scheyer scored five of Duke's final 10 points, including a clutch off-balance, acrobatic layup he converted into a three-point play with 7:58 left that gave the Blue Devils a five-point cushion they would need.
As the ball dropped through the net and the ref's whistle blew, Krzyzewski rose and fixed his stare on Scheyer. Locking his eyes into Scheyer's, all he did was nod. With that look, Scheyer knew Krzyzewski was telling him that this was the time seniors like him and Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek act like it.
Find a way. Lead. Finish. And they did.
The best sign of that senior leadership came when Zoubek, on his own, intentionally missed a free throw with 3.6 seconds left so the awkward rebound would make it harder for Butler to get a good shot. It worked.
If you're Krzyzewski, how do you put a price on the satisfaction of seeing young men you've invested so much in make that happen?
Some things not even $15 million a year can buy.
That's the exorbitant salary incoming New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire who is Moscow's answer to Mark Cuban, reportedly will offer Krzyzewski to rescue the sagging franchise.
"I wouldn't have any interest in the job," Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski, 63, values the way he fits at Duke more than the way he would fit into an absurd new tax bracket. For a coach content in every facet of the job making $4 million a year, does doubling that income improve his life that much? At what cost, ambition?
Once the pain subsides, Stevens will have to answer that question too. A published report Monday struck fear throughout Marion County by saying Oregon is targeting Stevens as its next head coach.
But if this edition of March Madness taught the college basketball community anything lasting, it's that bigger isn't always better. That's the lesson of Butler.
This NCAA Tournament produced thrills and memories money can't buy.
"I still can't believe we won," Krzyzewski said. "As good as the Butler story is and was and will be, our story is pretty good too."
The best story lost. The better team won.