The United States men’s basketball national team was expected to earn gold in London. But when Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coaches the U.S. team, jumped for joy three times in the final minute of the championship game, he showed those expectations took nothing away from the excitement.
The Americans defeated Spain 107-100 in the championship game at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, giving Krzyzewski his second gold medal in as many tries as the head coach of the squad that was heavily favored to repeat after winning at the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing.
“It’s more excitement, in the last couple minutes. I don’t think my reactions on the sidelines were out of relief,” Krzyzewski said upon his arrival at Raleigh-Durham International Airport last week. “It was like, ‘Whoa, this is unbelievable.’”
The seven-point victory in the gold-medal game was just one of two games in which the undefeated American squad allowed its opponent to finish within single digits. During the course of their eight games, they averaged a 32.1-point margin of victory.
Since becoming the head coach of the team in 2005, Krzyzewski has accumulated a 62-1 record, earning two Olympic gold medals and another title at the world basketball championships in 2010. The 2008 Olympic squad was nicknamed “The Redeem Team,” a play off 1992’s “Dream Team,” after the 2004 Olympic team failed to win gold for the first time since 1988, prior to the Dream Team.
Krzyzewski has stated repeatedly he plans to step down from his position as head coach, though he intends to remain involved with the U.S. basketball program.
“I’m really sure. This is a huge a commitment. I thank Duke University, [President Richard] Brodhead, [Director of Athletics] Kevin White [and] Joe Alleva before him for allowing me the opportunity to do this,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s time to pass the baton without letting it drop.”
But Krzyzewski was not alone in representing Duke basketball while in London. He was joined by his top two assistants, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, who helped coach the team and scout opponents.
Although they were not the team’s official assistant coaches, which included Syrcuse basketball head coach Jim Boeheim, they were integral to running practices during the tune-up period in July and during the Olympics.
Krzyzewski told an anecdote in which Collins and Wojciechowski could not get into practice one day because they were not credentialed as assistant coaches and the ensuing difficulty of running a practice without them. The duties were left to Krzyzewski, Boeheim and his other two assistants, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni.
“It was not good. We all had great ideas. It was like a bunch of old professors,” Krzyzewski said. “So we’re trying to run the drills and the players are laughing. Chris Paul and LeBron [James] pushed us out of the way and said ‘We know the drills. We’ll run them.’”
With Krzyzewski, Collins and Wojciechowski occupied, Duke basketball assistant coaches Jeff Capel and Nate James marshalled the Blue Devil recruiting efforts during the summer.
Throughout the tournament, Krzyzewski earned praise from his squad of NBA stars, which included just one player without professional experience, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who was selected No. 1 in this year’s NBA Draft.
But with Krzyzewski preparing to begin his 33rd season as Duke’s head coach, he learned that the team’s cohesion was just as important as its talent.
“Everybody worked as a team—the cooperation of our players was unbelievable. We were [not only] the most athletic [team], but the most together one, really. Our guys really got along,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s such an honor to win this thing and the way they won it makes it even better.”