In May, Mike Krzyzewski announced this year’s 2012 London Olympics would be his last as head coach of the United States.
While making it clear that he will remain involved with USA basketball, a man usually unwilling to make predictions about the future said he would no longer man the job that gave him a “spark” upon receiving the position in 2005.
“That spark can last for a long time. I’ll be involved with USA basketball somehow,” Krzyzewski said in a one-on-one interview with The Chronicle. “It’s not like I was dead and needed a recharge. It just took [me] to another level.”
But just because the second-time Olympic head coach was willing to announce in advance that he will step down, do not expect him tip his hand about his plans with Duke any time soon.
“The reason I said the thing for USA basketball is so I could just focus on London,” said Krzyzewski, who is preparing to enter his 33rd season with the Blue Devils. “People always like to ask about the future, which is fine…. As far as here at Duke, I don’t have a plan. I feel good, I feel we’ve had a great spring with our program.”
That plan has involved Krzyzewski spending his time managing his two jobs, calling the summer and spring as busy as any of the ones he has had in Durham. But as he begins to hit the road July 4, with practices and tune-up games in Las Vegas against the Dominican Republic and in Washington D.C. against Brazil before heading to Europe July 17, it will not get any easier.
Team USA’s Impact on Recruiting
Despite the burden of coaching a team labeled as the “Redeem Team,” which brought home the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics after a bronze performance in 2004, Krzyzewski said he will maintain daily contact with the Duke program. That effort is hampered by his two top assistants, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, joining him in London.
Assistant head coach Jeff Capel and special assistant Nate James will manage the team’s recruiting efforts in the meantime. The team needed a special waiver to allow James to go on the road recruiting in lieu of the other assistants, Krzyzewski said. He added that he is unsure of the effect his second job has on recruiting for Duke.
“We’ll stay involved. We’ve tried to develop relationships before this so that kids will understand we’re involved with the Olympics,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s created amazing benefits for Duke [and] for me. Whether it helps in recruiting or not, I don’t necessarily believe that—‘Because he’s coaching the Olympics, I’m going to Duke’—you still have to develop all your relationships.”
All of this is happening amid a rapidly changing recruiting climate, Krzyzewski noted. New rules allow coaches to make unlimited calls and text messages to their targets, while more than 450 players are looking to change schools, something Krzyzewski referred to as a “transfer epidemic.”
Duke is in the midst of recruiting one of those players, Mississippi State’s Rodney Hood, a 6-foot-8 swing player who averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman.
Building Connections in the NBA
While Krzyzewski has spent his summer leading various basketball camps on campus, he has remained in close touch with the professional athletes who he will soon be coaching. Watching the NBA Playoffs this year, he saw the broad scale of connections he has made between college and international competition.
“In almost every game you’ve watched, there were four to six guys I’ve coached,” he said.
Those efforts and contacts he has developed in the NBA are mutually beneficial. Krzyzewski recalled a conversation with Dell Demps, general manager of the New Orleans Hornets, in which they discussed both Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. Davis, who the Hornets will select with the first pick of June 28’s NBA Draft, may play with Krzyzewski as a part of Team USA. Rivers also worked out for New Orleans, which holds the draft’s 10th pick as well.
Krzyzewsi’s involvement with the national team gave him a special interest in the NBA Playoffs, albeit not one that led him to root for one team over the other. In the finals alone there were six players who are on the preliminary roster for Team USA: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I watch where they’re at, how they do different techniques [and] how their team is doing in pick-and-roll defense or help-side,” Krzyzewski said. “To be the national coach for seven years is a heck of a thing. It leads to other relationships—the fact that you are friends with Kobe and Lebron.”
“Lessons” learned as a coach
Krzyzewski was an assistant on the 1992 Dream Team that won the gold medal in the first time the United States used professional basketball players. That year, Krzyzewski was witness to the fabled practice in which a team of college players beat the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in a scrimmage.
Chuck Daly, head coach of the Dream Team, knew his players needed to see they were capable of losing, despite overwhelming expectations of victory.
“Chuck knew that our team needed to have a lesson,” Krzyzewski said.
With both Duke and Team USA, Krzyzewski has seen the need for his players to never take winning for granted. In the 2008 Olympics, the Americans defeated Spain by 37 points in pool play, only to hold a lead as small as two points in the fourth quarter of the gold medal game.
This year, Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils learned the downfall of high expectations when second-seeded Duke lost to 15th-seeded Lehigh in their first game of the NCAA Tournament. With 10 players returning from last year’s team, the Blue Devil head coach said he can draw positives from the dramatic upset.
“I actually think, if we were going to lose two games later, in some respects it was better to lose then because of the lesson…. There would be no lesson if you lose in the Sweet 16,” Krzyzewski said.
And as Krzyzewski works toward his second-consecutive gold medal, managing the expectations of his players is a challenge common to both Team USA and Duke. Hopefully for the Americans in London and next year’s Blue Devils, however, that is a lesson they learn earlier rather than later.
“When you walk into wealth, one of the greatest lessons you need to learn is, ‘How was that wealth accumulated? How did that get there?’ instead of just using the benefits of the wealth,” Krzyzewski said. “Every player who gets into our program needs to learn how you get there.”