Commentary: Williams, Coach K reveal human side

'Injurygate' provides a little more spice to Duke-North Carolina rivalry

Saturday, February 23, 2008

They are two of the greatest basketball coaches ever - hall of famers who teach, innovate, win championships and do all of it without cheating.

But Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski just can't help themselves. As much as they like to stay above the fray, the North Carolina-Duke rivalry brings out their inner beasts. They snipe at each other - the latest chapter being Injurygate.

They act just like their schools' fans do. And although some consider this unbecoming, I consider it something else: human.

Do Coach K and Williams really hate each other? They don't. A dollop of animosity still simmers because of The Foul a year ago. But they respect each other, and they both understand they have a lot in common.

Yet they want to beat each other so badly - and they compete so often and so publicly for recruits and victories - friction inevitably results.

More power to them. I love friction that isn't fiction. When the truth seeps out in this rivalry - when Coach K and Williams sound like real people, not like John Fox imitating a robot at every news conference - Duke-North Carolina gets even better.

So the two coaches argue a little about which version of the truth is correct. So what?

This is the best kind of UNC-Duke dispute at the best time. No one has a broken nose and the teams still must play at least once (and hopefully more than that) in the next six weeks. They face each other March 8 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Maybe they will play again in the ACC tournament final March 16 in Charlotte. And this year, they are both so good that a dream Final Four matchup in early April is possible.

The latest Roy/Coach K flare-up is both very minor and very interesting. It started brewing after Krzyzewski said on the radio after Duke's upset loss to Wake Forest on Sunday night that one of Duke's players, Nolan Smith, had been playing despite an injured knee. Coach K revealed that information and simultaneously took a dig against an unnamed school or two, saying that "unlike other schools, we don't release our injuries."

Williams believed that comment was aimed directly at his program, which holds more news conferences and is generally more transparent than Duke's. Williams took it so personally, you would have thought Coach K had called him out by name on national TV, saying Williams just wanted a ready-made excuse for any possible defeat.

Williams said heatedly on his radio show that he didn't care what somebody else said, and that the other team's coach should coach his own team, and he would coach his.

Of course, Williams does care. Very much. So does Coach K. They care about public perception, although not as much as championships.

Is Injurygate silly? Yes. Is it amusing? Absolutely. Is it hurting anybody?

Well, that depends on which coach you ask. Remember, one of them doesn't release injuries.