Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poor Corey Maggette

It's Wednesday morning and I've already begun gearing up for Coach K. See, Duke is coming to town to face Georgetown on Saturday afternoon and I will be in the house at Verizon Center, credentialed and everything, so I can pick the brain of one of the great leaders ever. Call me brainwashed, but I would believe Mike Krzyzewski if he told me he could walk on water. I would think to myself, "You know (because I love starting every thought with that phrase) it makes sense the guy is an immortal straight out of story of morals known as the Bible. How else could his hair remain so black, so straight, and so the same for three decades now?

But with my thoughts on Duke, I couldn't help but think about Corey Maggette. What ... you thought No. 1 Kentucky going down, Michigan almost pulling off the upset over Sparty, Kobe in D.C., the Caps seven-game winning streak, or even Super Bowl build-up was more interesting than Maggette's 18-point performance in a 96-93 loss to Sacramento?

Well, take a closer look at the box score. Maggette went 3-for-22 from the field to get those 18 points! I've been in attendance at more than 200 high school games, close to 100 college games, and played and watched countless hours of basketball during my life. I don't think I've ever heard of 3-for-22. Would have silently laughed if I saw it at a high school game I was covering, but would never expect it at the pro or college level. What's even more depressing/hilarious is Maggette was 0-for-17 through three quarters. I know the guy is notorious for being a chucker, but when you're like 0-for-10 or 0-for-14, usually there's a voice in your head that finally kicks in and says, 'Dude you're off, people are staring.' And if you're that person saying, "But Mark, he did get to the free throw line 16 times, made 13 of them, and grabbed 12 rebounds. That's a double-double. At least he's being aggressive," just take a look at his +/- rating. Maggette was -10, joining Andres Biedrins as the lone Warriors with a plus/minus lower than -1. The game continued a growing trend for Maggette, averaging lots of points in a losing effort. He's now -72 for this season, -148 in 2008-09, and -236 in 2007-08 with the Clippers.

And all this takes me back to the magical summer of 1999. That's when Maggette — who had just finished his freshman year as a sixth man on a Blue Devil team that lost to Khalid El-Amin, Richard Hamilton, and UConn in the NCAA Championship game in a certain somebody's domed atrocity in St. Petersburg, Fla — joined Elton Brand and William Avery in leaving Duke before graduating. As is well documented at this point, they were the first three players to ever leave Coach K and Duke early. As the story goes, Coach K only really thought Brand was ready to go pro and he was the only one who actually got his blessing.

What hasn't been well-chronicled is what has happened to all parties involved since all that early departure business went down more than a decade ago. As we all know Elton Brand has had a solid, though sometimes injury-riddled NBA career. Coach K was right about William Avery; he amounted to very little in the NBA and now plies his trade on teams with names like Galatasaray Café Crown and Trikala 2000 in places like Turkey, Ukraine, and Israel.

Then there's Maggette. What's often overlooked about Maggette's year-long stay in Durham is the fact that basically a year after he left, he admitted to taking $35,500 from his AAU coach (who has the totally non-shady name of Myron Piggie) while in high school, a pretty blatant violation of NCAA rules, no matter the intentions involved with the money. Coach K said two weeks after this came to light in 2000, that Duke should be punished if it were true.

They should have vacated that runner-up banner and maybe even gotten some probation, but Duke being Duke (even an apologist like me has to admit this), they didn't get any punishment. It's the type of supposed Coach K favoritism that made me a target growing up in Maryland country and has inspired many websites of this ilk.

But the resulting effect Corey Maggette has had on the Duke program since then is profound. Coach K is scared of another Maggette ruining his squeaky clean program, so he's mostly stayed out of the fray when it comes to one-and-doners since then. Quite frankly, though, his program really hasn't been the same. After making it to the Final Four eight times between 1986 and 1999, he's gone just twice since. It's true, extended excellence eventually turns into exceedingly difficult expectations.

What does this all mean? To be blunt, Corey Maggette has been paid tens of millions of dollars to accomplish very little on the basketball court. And yet, we may look back and wonder how a man so insignificant in a basketball sense permanently weakened one of the great basketball programs to emerge in the past 25 years. Writing that, I feel bad for the guy, though. It makes me wonder what life would be like if he had three more years with Coach K? My guess is he would have stopped shooting at around 0-for-10 last night.


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