I guess it is now official that Mike Krzyzewski will coach the 2012 Olympic basketball team.
From the point of view of USA Basketball, the decision makes absolute sense. You are putting the team in the hands of a coach who has proven he can coach the international game; has won the confidence of the NBA stars who will make up the team and already has three years of experience in preparing to win an Olympics.
From the point of view of Krzyzewski, who has been a friend of mine for 30 years, I think accepting the job is a mistake.
I understand why he did it: he feels an obligation to his country—Krzyzewski isn’t one of those guys who talks patriotism, he really and truly believes it—to Jerry Colangelo, who picked him to coach the team in spite of many doubters back in 2005 and to USA Basketball, an entity he has worked with for more than 20 years now.
I get all that. There’s also the simple fact that he’ll enjoy it. If you’re a coach, why wouldn’t you want to coach the best players and represent your country? There’s also ego involved: all the great coaches out there and USA Basketball wants him—again.
As I said, I understand the decision, I just wish he hadn’t made it.
When Krzyzewski was asked to coach the Olympic team following the debacle in Athens, he NEEDED to do it. Why? Because anyone who is any good at anything needs new challenges and needs to find out if he can do something he’s never done before. He’d made the decision years earlier that the NBA lifestyle wouldn’t fit him so this was his chance to prove—to himself and others—that he could coach NBA players, deal with all the egos, put together a cohesive unit and win the gold medal.
He did it. And, by all accounts, he did a superb job at every level, learning as he went—always one of his great strengths—so that he was a much better international coach in 2008 than he was in 2006 when the U.S. finished third in The World Championships.
Now, there’s nothing left to prove. The Redeem Team redeemed. Krzyzewski’s resume is as complete as any in history and, in all likelihood, he will pass his mentor Bob Knight as the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history sometime in 2012. He’s currently sitting at 833 wins—46 away from Dean Smith and 69 short of Knight.
Krzyzewski’s got one thing he needs to do over the next few years: restore Duke basketball.
On the face of it, that’s an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. Duke was 30-7 last season. It won the ACC Tournament and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. That’s the kind of season that gets most coaches lucrative contract extensions.
But Krzyzewski is not most coaches. He’s a coach who went to 10 Final Fours in 19 seasons from 1986 to 2004, winning three national titles along the way. He’s also a coach whose arch-rival, North Carolina, has been to three Final Fours in the last five years, winning tow national championships during that time. Duke’s record against North Carolina during that time is 3-7. You think that makes Krzyzewski happy?
No. Duke can put out press releases all over the place citing the gaudy numbers of last year or the year before (28-6) but here are the only numbers Krzyzewski cares about. Since 2005 Duke’s been to zero Final Fours. It barely squeezed into its first Sweet Sixteen in three years last March and then got crushed in Boston by Villanova. Elliot Williams, who would have been a key player in the backcourt this coming season, transferred to Memphis.
Duke has not—NOT—been getting the kind of player it got during the Golden Years. There are lots of reasons for that—one being the over-the-top anti-Duke backlash that exists (if I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, ‘you’re a pretty good guy for a Duke guy,’ I would be long-retired)—but they have added up to a clear recruiting gap between Duke and North Carolina and a handful of other top programs.
Krzyzewski likes to do lots of different things. He’s a wonderful speaker; I think he’s been involved in more books than I have; he does loads of charity work. You can’t knock any of that. But right now, at this moment in his life, he needs to dig in the way he’s dug in before and really get after it. I’m not knocking his work ethic on any level: in fact, I’m someone who has at times urged him to work LESS hard.
But here’s what opposing recruiters are going to be saying about him right now: You want to play for a coach whose focus might not be 100 percent because he’s coaching the Olympic team again? You think he’s going to have time to recruit the best players around you?
Doesn’t matter if there’s any truth in it at all. Recruiting isn’t about reality, it’s about perception.
I sincerely hope Krzyzewski proves me 100 percent wrong on all of this and tells me—as he most certainly will—to stick my opinions in a well-hidden place. But I still think this is good for USA Basketball, not so good for Mike Krzyzewski. And, to be honest, I care a lot more about the latter than the former.