By STEVE WISEMAN
DURHAM — For Mike Krzyzewski, the greatest challenge of his lifetime was accomplished four years ago on the other side of the world.
Today, Duke’s Hall of Fame basketball coach leads another talented team into Olympic competition.
Team USA seeks another gold medal, matching the accomplishment Krzyzewski led the Americans to in China in 2008. But the London Olympics also mark what’s expected to be the end of his international coaching career, one that stretches to 1979 and has driven him as much any challenge he has undertaken.
Krzyzewski, 65, doesn’t plan to coach Team USA again after the London games. So nothing would please him more than bringing the United States its second gold medal, and third world championship, since he became Team USA’s coach in 2005.
“It’s an ending of a great seven years, actually more than that,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve been involved with USA Basketball since I was the coach at Army, 1979. This is like 33 years in some way as being a part of it.
“I’ve loved it, and I love it right now. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure to win. Right now, at this time in my life, I still enjoy having that type of pressure.”
A 1969 West Point graduate, Krzyzewski’s coaching career began when he led service teams later that year. He was head coach at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School in Virginia from 1972-74.
His first international experience came at the 1979 Pan Am Games, when he assisted his former college coach, Bob Knight.
Krzyzewski has coached a dozen U.S. teams in international competition overall, from helping Knight with the 1984 Olympic gold medal team to assisting Chuck Daly on the 1992 Dream Team gold medalists.
His NCAA Division I-record 927 men’s basketball coaching victories, along with four NCAA championships, at Duke remain special to him.
Yet those close to him say that coaching Team USA is an even higher calling.
“I certainly think there is the element of patriotism and service,” his wife, Mickie Krzyzewski, said. “He considers this a service to his country. He tries to pass that on to his players.”
The players clearly have received that message. When Krzyzewski took over as head coach, Team USA was coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2004 Athens games.
Selfishness was seen as the main reason the country with the greatest basketball players on earth could come up short.
That has changed dramatically under Krzyzewski’s watch, and the U.S. won it all in 2008 in Beijing and at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey.
Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-Star forward, will be a stalwart for this year’s team in London. He said Krzyzewski has made it “cool” to play for your country again.
“It’s just cool,” Durant said. “He’s put an emphasis on team first and sacrificing for your country. Once you hear that, you automatically want to play.”
Jerry Colangelo, the former Phoenix Suns owner, took over as Team USA’s managing director after the Athens Olympic debacle. His biggest move was bringing in Krzyzewski as coach, and it’s played out even better than he hoped.
“I’ve said often I thought he was the right guy at the right time for all the attributes he had,” Colangelo said. “But, honestly, I could have never foreseen just how much — how organized, how committed, how disciplined, how passionate he would be about this whole thing.
“So when we talk about players exceeding expectations? He’s off the charts.”
Mickie Krzyzewski points out that involvement with Team USA, in addition to leading Duke’s program, is a sacrifice for Mike Krzyzewski and their family as well as the players.
Rather than make lucrative speaking engagements and work on endorsements, Krzyzewski and the players participate in unpaid positions.
Yet making USA Basketball the envy of the world once again is reward enough.
“He so much believes in that and so much believes that now, in his position at his age, this is how he can serve,” Mickie Krzyzewski said. “I know after 2008 a lot of people asked me, ‘What did he teach these guys? How could he take that crew that is the best and teach them anything?’
“I said he taught them patriotism. That’s what I think he taught them. That isn’t something that’s emphasized in schools these days. He showed them this is about country. We should be proud.”
That spirit of togetherness led NBA superstars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul to help win gold in 2008. It also has caused them to stay in touch with Krzyzewski regularly even while they play for their NBA teams.
Once again, all three will take the court for Team USA in London.
“Our friendship has grown and it will continue to grow,” said Paul, the former Wake Forest star. “We’ve all been together for six years. We’re all very familiar with each other. That’s what makes this journey so much fun and easy to be a part of.”
While Krzyzewski doesn’t intend to be Team USA’s head coach again, he and everyone close to him are certain he will be involved in keeping the United States No. 1 in the world.
“Let’s win and then figure that out,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ll be involved. It would be not a real smart thing to have someone who has been involved in this for seven years not to have some input in the future.
“I’ve lived this. I have a feel for it. I know the international community, the international game. Just going through the experience of doing this for seven years with the practices, the media, the culture differences, you want to make sure that you don’t just bury historic and institutional knowledge about those things. Jerry is going to keep on. My relationship with him is as close as it can be. I’ll be involved in some way.”
For Colangelo, who will stay on as managing director in preparation for 2016 the Games, the decision is easy.
“It’s pretty simple,” Colangelo said. “He can be involved as long as he wants to be as long as I’m involved. I don’t have another thing to take up my time. I would be hard-pressed not to have some involvement from Coach K going forward.
“We’ve grown so much over these last eight years and what he’s done in terms of developing this culture, it would be really hard to see us going forward without some involvement on his part.
“It’s really his call.”
Article source: HeraldSun - Duke Sports