HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You couldn’t ask for a better fit … or better results.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is a Hall of Famer, an icon and living legend in his profession. And yet, he’s found a way to step aside and allow the spotlight to shine exactly where it needs to when he’s coaching the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team — on the NBA stars in he leads in international competition.
That’s what makes his return to his post great news for USA Basketball and chairman Jerry Colangelo, who hand-picked Coach K to take over as coach in 2005, and the future of the program. The continuity this dynamic duo brings is what will propel the program for years to come. Sure, it helps having the best talent on the planet to choose from. But the pipeline was full of talent before Colangelo and Krzyzewski got together and the results looked nothing like the 62-1 mark the Men’s Senior National Team has compiled under them.
This is one of those times when the numbers do not lie. There is something special about the bond Coach K has forged with the core members of the program that was on full display at the 2012 London Olympics. He found a way to succeed with superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and others while also continually integrating new and different faces into the mix. Under him, the U.S. won back-to-back gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London four years later.
He found roles for guys like Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala and even a rookie like Anthony Davis, all stars in their own right and also all guys who might have been marginalized in years past on this stage. Things haven’t always run as smoothly as they have in recent years with the NBA stars involved with the program.
The all-time low point was the 2004 Athens Olympics. During that debacle, an ill-fitted group of NBA stars attempted to rescue the program’s honor on the global stage but ended up disappointing and finishing with a bronze medal. Rock bottom actually came four years earlier at the World Championships in Indianapolis in 2002, when a team coached by reigning NBA Coach of the Year George Karl was humbled on the world stage, becoming the first team with NBA players to fall in international competition while finishing an ugly sixth in the competition on home soil.
I was there in Indy and, as a fan of the international game and the fact that it’s played differently than the NBA style, it was as brutal to watch the U.S. struggle with that adjustment as it was to see them come apart at the seams.
Those back-to-back failures led directly to Colangelo and then Krzyzewski coming on board to help rehabilitate the program, complete with the formation of a robust Men’s Senior National Team roster that included commitments from many of the game’s biggest current stars. And they had to be willing to subject themselves to a grueling tryout process that could bruise plenty of egos along the way.
It wasn’t just about piling up a bunch of stars and throwing them into the unfamiliar international mix, where national teams from Argentina and Spain were gaining major steam. It was about rounding up the right stars that would embrace the team dynamic in ways that the players on the ’02 and ’04 teams refused to or simply could not.
You know the cupboard is stacked when you have All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday and other young stars willing to give up their summers to try to earn a place on the teams that will compete in the 2014 World Championships in Madrid and the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
Things have changed for the better with the power structure USA Basketball employed to help them regain their stature as the best in the world. And there’s no reason to assume they’ll do anything but continue that reign and improve upon that rock-solid foundation for years to come with Colangelo and Coach K at the helm.