Somewhere, Novak Djokovic is feeling slightly unappreciated.
After all, if the Serbian tennis dynamo wasn't going to win Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year honors this year -- one of the greatest individual years in men's tennis history, which was highlighted by a 10-1 record over legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and three Grand Slam titles -- it's safe to say he might never win it. But it's hard to argue too forcefully against the picks that won the award ahead of Djokovic, particularly if you're a college hoops fan. This year's Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year are Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.
Longtime SI writer Alexander Wolff was charged with explaining the selections, and he admits there is "an an element of the lifetime achievement award" in the choice:
How could there not be? Summitt has put her stamp on women's basketball for 38 seasons, from the days when the sport was sometimes referred to as "women's extramurals," and her Lady Vols were asked, during a 1979 game at LSU when their prelim to the men went into overtime, to move to an auxiliary gym so the guys could tip off on time. Over that span she has won eight national titles along with all those games, while graduating every last young woman to play four years for her.
As for Krzyzewski, with four more seasons he will complete 40 years as a collegiate head coach. He won his fourth and unlikeliest national title in 2010, and -- oh, by the way -- sandwiched around it two almost criminally underappreciated international gold medals, at the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Championships, as head coach of a U.S. national team program that had been in steady decline. No other coach has ever won the Olympics, the NCAAs and the Worlds -- and Coach K did so in a span of 26 months.
Why highlight them now? Wolff cites Coach K's recent move into the all-time wins lead among men's college hoops coaches, which he accomplished in epic fashion at Madison Square Garden in November. He also says Summitt's diagnosis of early onset dementia, and her brave and inspiring response to the disease, provided the impetus to award the legendary Lady Vols coach this season.
It's hard to fault SI for the selections, especially given the lifetime achievement aspect. Still, the awards come at a fascinating time. Perhaps no year in the history of college sports has been less friendly to the image of the collegiate coach as teacher and mentor -- from the rampant cheating scandals to the dastardly events at Penn State (and now Syracuse), college sports's tendency to canonize its most successful coaches has undergone something like a psychological crisis. You could understand any hesitancy to avoid that discussion in the Sportsman of the Year process.
Still, if there are any two college coaches deserving of this kind of lifetime achievement honor -- the only other college coaches to win the award are legends John Wooden and Dean Smith -- it's Coach K and Pat Summitt. There are arguments to be made for a host of players and teams, from Dirk Nowitzki to Aaron Rodgers to Lionel Messi to Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams. And sure, the hardcore Djokovic fans will be upset. But few college hoops fans would argue with SI's choices.