Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski led Team USA to its 14th gold medal—the second under his leadership—with the help of two other Blue Devils: associate head coaches Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski.
Collins and Wojciechowski served as court coaches for Team USA, running practices and scouting opponents. The duo joined the U.S. national team’s staff in 2008 and played key roles in the team’s gold-medal run at the Beijing Olympics. The lack of turnover on the squad between the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the FIBA World Championships in 2010 produced a familiarity between the coaching staff and players in the lead-up to the London Games that was significant in the team’s success, Collins said.
“When we first did it in Beijing, everyone was getting to know each other, the players were getting to know Coach K and how we run things, and we were trying to get to know them,” he recalled. “[In London,] players knew what to expect, knew drills, knew us as people and us the same with them. It made the transition in this Olympics a lot easier…and really helped us to continue to build our chemistry.”
In preparation for this summer’s Olympic matchups, Collins and Wojciechowski facilitated offensive and defensive sets and practice drills for members of Team USA, which included the biggest names in basketball: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
The Team USA squad in London was physically smaller than the team that competed in Beijing, which presented a unique set of challenges. Big men Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard were injured, meaning Team USA had to build a team more around athleticism and versatility, Collins said.
“It was a challenge because a lot of teams were very big—NBA players around 7-feet tall, like Spain,” he said. “It was a tough challenge, but our guys really faced it, and it made the gold that much sweeter.”
Despite the difference between coaching in college and at the NBA level, the players’ respect for Krzyzewski and the entire coaching staff helped make practice and coaching smooth. Collins noted that the coaches had to be a little bit more flexible in terms of reconciling NBA players’ styles with values.
“It’s one of the reasons why Coach K is so fit for this job,” Collins added. “Coach K is a master at doing that: playing hard, playing together and playing to win. He won’t sacrifice his values but is very much willing to adapt and be flexible—it’s one of the reasons we win.”
Collins and Wojciechowski, along with Krzyzewski, were honored for their Olympic participation at halftime of Duke football’s season opener against Florida International Sept. 1.
Duke’s persistent presence at the Olympics also says a lot about the University as a whole, Collins said.
“You maybe don’t realize how special of a name or the weight Duke carries until you get into a global setting like that,” he said. “Whether you’re talking to other athletes or coaches of people and you say ‘Duke,’ people’s eyebrows raise because Duke has such a standard of excellence in everything.”