Duke, coach Mike Krzyzewski find reputation isn’t enough against Mercer

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 03/23/2014, 02:36am

Mike Krzyzewski is a gentleman, and you have to like that.

But wouldn’t you think the legendary, $7 million-a-year Coach K could take his famed Duke team from the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference, his global hoops reputation, his six former McDonald’s high school All-Americans, including consensus freshman of the year Jabari Parker, and beat Mercer?

How many Mercer players do you think Coach K recruited? Let’s say none.

Did you know Mercer is in Macon, Ga.? Probably not. Did you know Mercer lost this season to North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and a school called South Carolina Upstate? No, no, no.

You did know 14th-seeded Mercer beat third-seeded Duke 78-71 in the second round of the NCAAs on Friday, right?

It’s a pity we wasted Parker, our great Chicago one-and-done product, on a lax program such as Duke.

† IT’S INTERESTING to note that Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss are, as of this writing, still engaged.

The new president of the Knicks and the established president of the Lakers, respectively, have been house pals for some time. And through most of that time, they were representing the Lakers.

Now we have a bicoastal relationship that might get interesting as they try to rebuild their bumbling big-city teams. Sensing the potential for devious bed chatter, if you will, the NBA apparently has stepped in where only cracker crumbs usually tread.

‘‘There’s a document that we have to sign that deals with conflicts of interest,’’ Buss said in a radio interview Thursday. ‘‘I don’t think there’s been a couple like this. . . . But I understand; I’ll sign it. I don’t see any problem going forward.’’

If you see Kobe joining Carmelo in Manhattan or Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire moving to Manhattan Beach, call the collusion police. There’s a problem going forward.

† DO YOU REMEMBER young Shaun Livingston?

I do. He was a tall, super-talented, string-bean guard at Peoria Central High School, which won back-to-back Class AA state championships in 2003 and 2004. One day, he called me on the phone to discuss a paper he was writing for his senior English class. He needed quotes from a sportswriter or something.

Being a Peoria guy, I helped. That’s how we do it Downstate.

At any rate, Livingston went to the NBA directly out of high school. He was taken fourth overall by the Clippers in the 2004 draft, started to develop, then landed wrong after a missed layup during a game in 2007 and blew out his left knee so badly that you don’t want to see it.

Trust me. The whole thing’s on YouTube. But unless you like seeing things such as Joe Theismann’s leg snapping in half, don’t seek this out. Livingston’s lower leg goes parallel to the court, while his upper leg is vertical. Enough said.

An injury like that, you’re not sure if the guy will walk normally again, let alone play ball. Livingston pretty much disappeared from the scene after surgery, doing nothing but rehabbing and rebuilding his strength and confidence for years on end.

But I’m happy to report Livingston finally seems to have rebuilt himself and found a secure home as a part-time starter with the Nets. After being cut by the Clippers, he had brief stays through the years with the Heat, Thunder, Wizards, Bobcats, Bucks and Cavaliers. But now, seven years after that gruesome knee injury, he’s playing almost as well as he ever has, averaging eight points, three rebounds and 3.1 assists in 25.4 minutes.

You might never notice Livingston in the star-studded universe of pro hoops. But if you do — if you see No. 14 on the floor for the Nets — just smile a little smile and say under your breath, ‘‘Well-done, young man.’’

† ON FRIDAY, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook left the team’s game against the Raptors after reinjuring his right knee in the third quarter.

Westbrook has had three surgeries on that knee since last season. Like the Bulls’ Derrick Rose, he was a high-flying, athletic ballhandler who has been hobbled by that frailest part of our mobility structure.

Knees! Are we sick of them yet?

Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Westbrook, Rose, Patrick Kane and on and on. Thousands and thousands of jocks hacked down through time by a joint I could have built better in third grade with a gob of clay.

Oh, well. The knee-replacement industry is booming.

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