Chemistry bigger than one player

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
12:19
PM ET
Duke’s Seth Curry talked about the state of his team.

And Austin Rivers became a culprit.

Curry recently told Shawn Krest, who covers Duke basketball for CBS Rapid Reports, that his team’s chemistry has changed this offseason. Curry said, “we like each other,” a trait that apparently separates this season’s squad from last year’s crew. Asked to clarify, Curry explained, “we weren’t close like this.”

Last week, Curry told Blue Devil Nation he hopes the squad “will be more of a family” next season.

To some observers, Rivers was a polarizing figure who embodied the “get mine” mentality of the stereotypical one-and-done prospect. Curry’s words were immediately translated as a good riddance to Rivers. The latter became the scapegoat for Duke’s apparent division, even though Curry didn’t name names.

Yes, Rivers may have contributed to chemistry problems within the organization. At this level, however, it’s usually more complicated than that.

Disjointed programs begin like the rest. The excitement of an upcoming season and a common goal fuels a sense of togetherness that most squads enjoy in the year’s preliminary stages.

And then, the ref tosses the rock into the air. Players begin to recognize that they’re not who they thought they were. Losses mount. Media scrutiny intensifies. Coaches face more pressure. Frustration builds.

What starts out as an episode of “Family Matters” soon resembles a segment on “Basketball Wives.” (“You ain’t about this life!”)

You don’t read about it because the power coaches on the national scene don’t disclose the details -- on the record, at least. Players, either.

But they say things that make you wonder. “We’ve got to be more of a team.” “Guys need to get on the same page.” “If we’re not together, then we’re not going to achieve our goals.”

It’s unfair to blame Duke’s woes on Rivers alone. (Or Miles Plumlee, since he’s gone, too.)

Perhaps they contributed to the condition Curry described. But they weren’t the only two players on that squad. That entire roster was responsible for whatever internal challenges it endured.

But this example is proof that players, not coaches, dictate team chemistry.

Coaches can guide team drills. They can host barbecues. They can conduct one-and-one chats with players. They can motivate. They can create the proper environment for team unity. They don’t control the social culture within the locker room.

The young men that suit up for their respective programs are in charge of that. They’re not different than their peers throughout campus. They bond according to various interests and ties. They connect with like-minded folks.

A dozen kids on a college basketball team will encounter the same social hurdles most young people face.

The utopian connectedness that college basketball evangelists sometimes tout is rarely factual. That’s just not how it works.

Players will fight. They won’t always like one another.The postgame pileup doesn’t prove anything. The same guys who celebrate together might not talk again until the next practice/game.

The teams that understand and embrace the value of fellowship are the teams that won’t fall apart during hard times. They’re the teams that won’t allow one player to mess it up for everyone else.

It’s not an easy task.

Ask UCLA. Ask Mississippi State. Ask Connecticut.

Curry’s ambitions are admirable and expected. As a senior leader, he’ll be a central figure in Duke’s push for more unity throughout the 2012-13 campaign.

But if the Blue Devils rely on one player to make it work -- and that goes for every squad in the country --they’ll have more trouble in the future.

Players control chemistry.

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