As usual, Blue Devil Nation was live on the scene and participating in this morning’s USA Basketball’s press conference announcing the return of Gold Medal-winning Coach Mike Krzyzewski to head up the program going forward to 2016. The national media was there for Q&A with Coach K and Chairman Jerry Colangelo, where the two titans of USA Basketball held court.
One question on everyone’s mind was just how Coach K came to decide to come back for one more go-round, and how Colangelo got him to do it. It was truly impressive that Colangelo stated that he couldn’t really even look into a future without Coach K at his side. He never had a single conversation with any other prospective coach, because he always believed that somehow, some way, Coach Krzyzewski would be back. Both men mentioned the word “continuity” several times during the press conference, making it obvious that when it comes to the values they have instilled in this program, continuity is at the top of the list. Colangelo talked a bit about the basketball cultures in other countries, and how many of them had solid cultures before the United States really did. We have an academic program here as the basis for our young players’ development, as opposed to other countries’ club models, within which it can be easier to keep teams together. But now we’ve developed our own hybrid way of doing it, and solidified our infrastructure, and have continuity in our program starting with players as young as 16 years old. That structure, more than anything, is what ensures a bright future for USA Basketball.
Despite that value on continuity, though, K indicated that after London in 2012 he thought he would step back; he had a fantastic seven year run as the program’s leader, and thought he would assume another role. He would’ve been fine with it had the program decided it was time to go in another direction. But it just didn’t work out that way. There was little real discussion of the issue until Duke’s season was over, as Colangelo wanted to respect Coach K and his responsibilities with the Blue Devils. Starting around the Final Four, though, and as the coach and Colangelo continued to talk about it, the conversations simply led to the obvious: the best plan to maintain the quality and continuity of the program was K continuing as coach. Once he discussed it with his wife, the rest of the family, and Duke, and they were all on board, and he continued to meet with Colangelo including in Vegas earlier in May, he made the final decision to return.
There has long been discussion about the effect of his national team responsibilities on Coach K’s Duke career and its longevity. Coach put any concerns about that to rest. First of all, there was no relationship between his initially taking on National Team duties and a few sub-par (for him) seasons at Duke. The coach stated that we had a few teams at Duke in those years that were “just OK” but that was unrelated to his involvement with USA Basketball. We’ve won championships — referring to 2010 — at times when he was also serving as National Team coach, so there clearly is no adverse effect on Duke from his spending time at USA Basketball’s helm. The bottom line on this, as he told the assembled media, is that USA Basketball has helped to energize him, not wear him down. He feels he has learned an awful lot in this role, and it has made him want to coach even more — as he put it, it has added to his “shelf life.” One of the reasons it has so energized a coach as accomplished as he is is because of the challenge of going up against the world’s best players and so many excellent international coaches. Coach K is smart enough and humble enough to realize that other coaches, in particular those from other cultures, can see the game in a different way, that other ways can be effective too, and once you acknowledge that reality, it makes you a better coach. Even at this age and with this much experience, Duke’s coach continues to learn, and to adapt. Impressive.
OK so what about the team going forward? There will be a camp in July in Las Vegas, but this will be mostly younger guys being invited. There will be an intersquad game at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 25. Approximately 24 players will be invited, and Coach K called them “the future” of the USA teams. He noted that the program is in excellent shape, with one manifestation of that being that every one of our youth teams are defending gold medalists.
In terms of players, K and Colangelo have already heard from a number of players who have reached out, indicating they would like to play, so there will be no shortage of guys for the pool. But again, because there are so many players who are known to the program, who have played before, the summer’s purpose is to see new guys. A number of the “older” guys will be there too, but that is to maintain relationships and maintain the feeling they have created as part of a “USA Basketball family.” The roster will constantly be turning over, and there will ultimately be a mix of the younger and the holdovers by the time we get to 2016. Some of the guys who have played previously may have issues around health, family situations, or the time commitment. There is always going to be turnover, just as there was from 2008 to 2010 to 2012. But again, there are lots of very, very good players who are very interested in being a part of this program. We have a deep and talented pool already, and Coach K and Colangelo are working constantly to expand the pool with new players.
How will the team be constructed? They will not mold the roster to try to counter what prospective opponents will bring to the table. Rather, Coach K and his staff will select the most talented team and go from there. How will they do that? The process is to select a “core group” of from six to nine players and then complement them with two to four other guys so that they can play against any opponent, using any style. Because you can’t play 12 guys in a game anyway, you put together a core group, and then some specialists around them to create flexibility in style, and to protect against the effects of any injuries. Makes sense to me.
No staff announcements at this time. Those will be Colangelo’s to announce, but Coach K indicated in no uncertain terms that he would like to have his close friend Jim Boeheim back on the staff. Boeheim has headed the selection committee for the younger teams for over a decade, and he is a trusted and respected friend and coach. I have no doubt the Syracuse coach will be back.
My favorite answer from Coach K came to an excellent question (because it was mine!) about what it is that the players get out of participating in Team USA. Of course there is tremendous pride in representing one’s country. But the other thing he talked about is players having the ability to compare talents and to learn more about the game, and, critically, to learn to become a team member with a different role outside of your regular team. Our guys have been outstanding at accepting different roles and learning to play those roles for the good of the team. Not everybody can be a star on every team, and our players accept their roles as being part of something bigger than themselves. These players form friendships and bonds as a result of participation on this team, and those bonds can last forever. Coach noted that not all teams develop that kind of closeness, but the last three teams Coach K has had all have done so. Again, impressive.
One note on the ACC: Coach K can’t wait for the new and expanded ACC. He believes it will be great for the game to have so many “brands” and the type of coaching and level of accomplishment that so many in this league have. He believes that the stronger your league is, the better your chance to win national championships, because you play more games at that championship level than do others. So long as you don’t get hurt — big “if,” huh Duke fans?? — the experience of being in all those tough spots has got to help you down the line. Again, the man makes sense.