When Mike Krzyzewski turned down the Los Angeles Lakers job more than fifteen months ago, he said he chose to remain at Duke because it had "taken up my whole heart."
With the expected introduction of Krzyzewski as the USA men's senior national team head coach at a press conference in New York today, it is apparent that his heart did in fact have a little room for something else.
Not that that's a bad thing, though.
The partnership of Coach K and the national team is one that will return the United States to the top of the basketball world and will allow Krzyzewski to fulfill a dream without leaving the rest of his heart behind.
The challenge he faces in returning American basketball to international respectability is not an easy one, but it is certainly one that is possible under the proper guidance. The last national team was a disaster under the leadership of Larry Brown (perhaps it was because he is a former Tar Heel). But players argued with each other and their coaches, and generally appeared to be distracted by their off-the-court antics instead of focusing solely on basketball. The team was also ill-designed for international competition.
The foreign style of play is something that Krzyzewski should understand well as someone who has coached at the college level for three decades. In many ways international and college basketball are more similar to one another than either is to the NBA. Both place value on motion offense and precise outside shooting. In addition, the two are similar because of the intense emotions players feel when they take the court representing their school or country.
And the similarities don't end there. Coach K knows what it's like to have every opponent gunning for his squad at all times, and he should be able to apply that in the qualifying tournament next summer and at the OIympics in Beijing in 2008.
Krzyzewski's leadership style should also lend itself well to the job. He played and coached at West Point and doesn't put up with the nonsense that most coaches do. But he's not so old-school that he won't connect with the world of exorbitant money and elitism in which today's NBA stars live. For once his American Express endorsement can be viewed positively as it gives him credibility with pro players who might otherwise not take a college coach seriously.
Krzyzewski will use his years of experience and leadership skills to turn the Americans into winners once again.
The question then is, does the partnership make sense for Duke too? There are definitely two sides to this issue, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
Remember it was only ten years ago when a back injury and overwhelming pressure caused Krzyzewski to miss most of the 1995 Blue Devil season. At the time he said he had taken on too many responsibilities outside the Duke basketball program, and that he would limit them in the future. Krzyzewski has said recently that a similar breakdown could never happen again because he has a better support system, but who knows for sure?
On the other hand, the selection of Krzyzewski further solidifies him as the best, or at least most widely respected, coach in all of college basketball. The impact on recruiting will be huge, domestically and internationally. What high school player wouldn't want to come play for the coach of the national team?
Furthermore, his selection generates positive media attention for the University. And it won't be over soon. Duke can brag for the next three years that its basketball coach is also in charge of the Olympic team. If he is the one to turn around the national program, all Duke fans can declare with pride that their coach did it.
The Olympic job is a no-lose situation for Coach K. There are already low expectations for the national team, and if Krzyzewski does indeed change things, he will be viewed as the savior.
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