Never mind the notion that a college basketball lifer wouldn’t translate to the NBA. Any owner with a clue would welcome Krzyzewski’s Hall of Fame credentials and commanding presence.
Well, turns out Krzyzewski is coaching guys with eight-figure W2s, but the gig – leading the U.S. national team instead of a NBA franchise -- has extended his Duke tenure.
“As far as my coaching, just my career, USA Basketball has helped energize even more,” Krzyzewski said last week as he re-enlisted for a third Olympics cycle, “and I've learned so much over these seven years. It's made me better, wanting to coach even more.
“Instead of reducing my shelf life, so to speak, I think it's added to it, and I believe that it will do that over these next four years also.”
Indeed, at 66 Krzyzewski is better than ever, and he has not only USA Basketball but also Duke well positioned for additional championships.
Consider his Blue Devils teams since he guided the U.S. to the 2008 gold medal in Beijing:
Duke reached the Sweet 16 in 2009 with merely an above-average roster headlined by Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler. A year later, Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith led the Blue Devils to their fourth national championship.
With luminous freshman Kyrie Irving in 2011, Duke was poised to repeat. Moreover, Krzyzewski believed the team capable of the sport’s first undefeated season since Indiana ’76. But a toe injury shelved Irving for much of the year, and the Blue Devils exited in a regional semifinal.
Injuries struck again this past season, to seniors Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, yet in one of his finest coaching jobs, Krzyzewski coaxed Duke to the Elite Eight, where it fell to eventual national champion Louisville. Place the Blue Devils in any other region, and they reach the Final Four.
That following summer, Krzyzewski and the U.S. won gold again, at the London Games, after which Krzyzewski insisted it was time for another national coach. USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo had other ideas.
“You know, I found it hard to look into the future and not have Coach K at my side as it relates to USA Basketball,” Colangelo said. “Despite his position when the London Olympics ended, I never lost hope, if you will, and belief that time would heal and that there was a great chance he would come back.”
Props to Colangelo for recruiting Krzyzewski to a third term – Hank Iba (1964, ’68, ’72) is the only other coach to lead the U.S. in three Olympics – and sustaining the culture of service and success that Krzyzewski has established at USA Basketball.
The national team is 62-1 under Krzyzewski, stumbling only at the 2006 world championships, and unlike so many of his predecessors, Krzyzewski has sold the NBA’s elite on the privilege of representing our country.
That sales pitch is rooted in the military values Krzyzewski learned as a West Point cadet and Army officer. Hence, the verb is to “serve” on the national team, not “play.”
“I think to a man, any of the guys that have played for us will tell you that they're better off,” Krzyzewski said at last week’s news conference. “Just like I'm telling you that I'm better off for coaching this team, they were better off for playing on that team.
“It's a unique experience. Friendships and a brotherhood that is developed that lasts forever. I mean, most people don't have that. Even people who play professionally, sometimes it seems they're never able to develop that, but the last three teams we’ve had [2008 Olympics, 2010 worlds, 2012 Olympics], we've had that.”
Kevin Durant on Twitter: “Playing for Coach K in 2010 and 2012 was an amazing experience. He's a great coach, and USA Basketball is blessed to have him. He coaches with great passion, but always keeps us calm, and makes sure we are prepared for our opponents.”