Mike Krzyzewski ended the 2006 FIBA World Championships with a bronze medal--but in his eyes, it was only the first step to winning gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The U.S. Men's Senior National Team has received much criticism after its surprising 101-95 loss to Greece in the championships' semifinals. Although Krzyzewski has said he takes responsibility for the upset, he has been quick to point out that he and Managing Director Jerry Colangelo set out to develop an established program, not institute a quick fix.
"In order to build a program, it takes time," Krzyzewski said. "We were able to start the beginnings of a culture, of a program. Even though we did not win the gold medal, we played well, we represented our country extremely well. It's almost like maybe it can't happen that quick."
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The development of the three-year program is still in a relatively early stage. Although Krzyzewski was named head coach of the team last October, the squad was not fully assembled until July 19. The World Championships edition of the national team was without several of its top talents--Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Amare Stoudamire, Michael Redd, Lamar Odom, J.J. Redick and Chauncey Billups were all unavailable for play due to injury or personal reasons.
"We'll never have as much [familiarity] as them. Guys are not going to stay on this national team forever. It's a big commitment," Krzyzewski said. "But hopefully we'll have continuity, where a good portion of the guys who were on this team will be on the Olympic team."
In addition to becoming comfortable with new teammates, Krzyzewski said the team must also continue to adjust to international rules. FIBA regulations differ from the NBA's, from the amount of contact allowed to the length of the game--40 minutes to the NBA's 48--and size of the lane.
"The main difference for our guys is in the last couple years in the NBA, they don't allow very much physical contact," Krzyzewski said. "[The NBA is] trying to make it a more offensive game. There's not the bumping and all that on the ballhandler, there's no handchecking at all. The international game is 180 degrees different.
"The biggest thing is how you defend the post-bumping cutters. It's not like our guys can't do that, it's just that it's not a habit. You can get knocked off your game a little bit more."
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The U.S. team has two more summers to catch up to the established international squads. Yet as demonstrated by the team's response to the loss, nothing short of the gold will be acceptable in Beijing in 2008.
"I'm not making any excuses," he said. "That's the world game-we better learn it, we better get tough. We're not going to change it, and I think we can win in it. But it won't come about unless we have to resolve to learn and build. It's not going to be an instant fix, and it shouldn't be."
Andrew Yaffe contributed to this story.