There’s no question as to what Coach Mike Krzyzewski is capable of achieving at the college level. As the all-time winningest head coach in Men’s Division I basketball history with a record of 927-291, it’d be hard to make an argument that the man doesn’t know what he’s doing on the sidelines. He has led the Duke Blue Devils to four NCAA Championships (1991, 1992, 2001 and 2010), 13 ACC Tournament championships, and 11 Final Four appearances. Oh yeah, he’s also received 12 National Coach of the Year honors.
Never satisfied, Coach K has taken his talents to the international game, serving as the current head coach of the men’s USA basketball team. Krzyzewski has been involved with USA basketball for a while as he was an assistant to coach Bob Knight on the USA Pan American Games team that won gold. He was also an assistant on the world-renowned “Dream Team” that won gold in 1992 in Barcelona. Since finishing a incredibly dissapointing third at the 2004 Olympics, USA basketball underwent a complete makeover. Krzyzewski was the man chosen for the job. As head coach of the US team since 2006, he’s led the team to gold medals at the 2010 FIBA World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Clearly Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball’s Board of Directors, made the right choice.
While it may have seemed obvious that Coach K, given his long list of achievements at Duke, would be successful as head coach of Team USA, it’s important to keep in mind the differences between dealing with college players and NBA superstars. It’s a whole different game at the NBA level. Sure basketball is basketball, but the coach of team USA is charged with the difficult task of managing twelve of the biggest names in the NBA, all the baggage they carry with them individually, and most importantly their egos.
USA teams that failed to live up to expectations in the past never lacked talent. They were clearly better than any team they ever faced, on paper at least. They lost because of other issues. An inability to play together, lack of team cohesion, and perhaps even feeling like the gold medal would just win itself because of the simple fact that they were NBA stars. Since Coach K took the reins of the program, USA basketball has reclaimed its number one spot in the international game.
What’s important to realize is how much this success should be attributed to Coach K. Yes, the difficulty of crafting winning teams starts from getting the right players. But putting the twelve best NBA players out on the court would not necessarily make for the best team, let alone one that could get the job of winning gold done. Then, once the team is chosen, how in the world is Coach K supposed to pick out who he’s going to start? You try looking down the USA roster and easily pick out five players who deserve to start without question. Roles are less clearly defined with this team of superstars, so Coach K has to be conscious not only of managing the game as he coaches, but also all twelve of his players who each have the ability to be on the court and contribute. It can’t be easy to tell Kevin Durant, who just won his third scoring title in a row in the NBA that he’ll be starting off on the bench. Who’s to say Chris Paul should start over Deron Williams? These are arguments you hear around the basketball world daily. Kobe or Lebron? Best point guard in the game? But Coach K is the one who has to deal with working it all out into a manageable, cohesive, and most importantly winning team.
So far, he’s proven he’s been able to do that. Hopefully he continues to maintain the balance on team USA and continues to win. There’s no way this team shouldn’t win gold. It’s gold or bust. That’s the way it should be for USA basketball, they should win every night against every team. This 2012 squad may not be as good as the Dream Team (although Kobe begs to differ), but anything short of top spot on podium day at these Olympics will be a disappointment. I’m confident we’ll be there, in part because of our roster but more importantly because of Coach K.