HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — From 2006 through the London Olympics, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team went 43-1 (62-1 if you count exhibitions) under coach Mike Krzyzewski. And Sunday’s gold-medal-game victory over Spain was its 36th straight win (50 if you count exhibitions) since losing to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.
So Krzyzewski, who has said that he’s done coaching the National Team, is going out on top, with two Olympic gold medals and one World Championship. The coach that replaces him has some big shoes to fill, as well as plenty of pressure to keep the U.S.A. on top of the basketball world.
Even if you’re a Duke hater, you have to respect what Krzyzewski has done over the last seven years. He’s a college coach, but managed to connect with and motivate five different squads of NBA stars. And after that ’06 loss to Greece, he clearly made it a priority to learn more about the international teams and players his team was facing.
While most fans and pundits focus on the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a new coach needs to be selected well before then. The U.S. will look to defend its World Championship at the renamed FIBA Basketball World Cup, which takes place from Aug. 31-Sept. 14, 2014 in Spain.
So who should USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo select as the next coach? Here are six candidates…
1. Gregg Popovich — My man Fran Blinebury makes the case for Pop here. And it’s hard to argue against it.
2. Doc Rivers — Rivers has done a fantastic job of managing star players (and the egos that come with them) for the last five years in Boston. Players want to play for him, a fact that would only help USA Basketball put together more star-studded rosters going forward. During these past Olympics, Rivers said on NBC that “you’d have to say yes” to an offer to coach the Olympic team. But at the same time, he endorsed Popovich. Then, after the Olympics were over, Rivers said the next coach should be Doug Collins.
3. Doug Collins — Collins has done a nice job with the Sixers over the last two seasons, and Rivers believes that Collins deserves some redemption for the 1972 Olympics, when the U.S. was robbed of the gold medal because officials gave the Soviet Union three chances to score the winning basket with one second left. It would certainly make for a good story if Collins led the U.S. to gold 44 years later, but is sentiment a good reason to choose a coach?
4. Nate McMillan — If Colangelo wants some continuity from the last seven years to the next four, McMillan could be the answer. He has served as one of Krzyzewski’s assistants since 2006, and though he’s currently unemployed, he should be back on an NBA bench soon.
5. Erik Spoelstra — If Colangelo is thinking long-term, he couldn’t do much better than the 40-year-old Spoelstra, who has a lot of coaching ahead of him. He’s also won an NBA championship with at least two stars — LeBron James and Chris Bosh — who could be back on the roster in 2014 or 2016.
6. Tom Izzo – Izzo could be the way to go if the U.S. wants to follow the “well-respected college coach” formula. Like Krzyzewski, Izzo owns a long tenure at a big-time school, coaching Michigan State since 2005 and he has been on the staff there since 1983. Under Izzo, the Spartans have made six trips to the Final Four and won an NCAA championship in 2000.