Coach Krzyzewski putting legacy at risk By Chris Sheridan
LAS VEGAS -- It'd be both unfair and inaccurate to call Mike Krzyzewski the biggest high roller rollin' through this money- -- and odds- -- obsessed city Tuesday.
But to say Coach K was the biggest gambler in town on this particular day, would that be a stretch?
The answer here is no.
Lots of people like to hate on the guy (raise your hands, Tar Heel Nation), but you have to give Krzyzewski some props here for having the guts to gamble on establishing something bigger, better and more long-lasting that what he would have left behind had he walked away.
At 62, he just re-enlisted for four more years when the easier thing to do would have been to pronounce the job finished when, in actuality, it isn't.
Three years and 364 days after he first accepted the job as coach of the senior U.S. men's national team, Coach K went ahead and put his career portfolio back on the line in making the official announcement that he will remain the coach of Team USA through the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympics, giving him seven consecutive years on the job.
At risk is his legacy, the question of whether he'll go down in the history books as the coach who -- either permanently or temporarily -- restored America's prominence in the international basketball world.
And, like a bettor playing with house money, Coach K is willing to double down -- quadruple down, actually, given that he's aiming for gold in Istanbul and London -- that he'll be remembered for the permanence of the success he brought to the USA Basketball program.
"If you're worried about legacy, 2005 was the time to refuse," Krzyzewski told ESPN.com on Tuesday over lunch at the Wynn Hotel and Resort. "My family told me this after the gold-medal game in Beijing when I felt exhilarated but they felt relieved. They were worried about that for me, even though I was never worried about it for three years because if that becomes your opponent, then somebody who's not worried about their damn legacy is playing against you, and he's going to kick your butt."
MOST OLYMPICS COACHING TEAM USA
Henry Iba 3 1964, 1968, 1972
Mike Krzyzewski 2 2008, 2012
13 tied 1
Coach K's teams got their collective butts kicked only once in his first three years at the helm of Team USA, a loss to Greece in the semifinals of the world championship in Japan in 2006 that Krzyzewski and Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo now look back on as arguably the best thing that ever happened to the national team on their watch -- even though it happened on what Colangelo called "the only single bad day we had over the course of three years."
That loss was what fueled the fire of the core of young NBA players who returned to the national team the next two summers, steamrolling the competition at the 2007 Tournament of the Americas before winning the gold medal in Beijing in 2008 with a gritty victory over the reigning world champions from Spain in the final.
The players who formed that core -- LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams -- all told Colangelo in February that they plan to be on board for the tournament in Turkey next summer when the United States will attempt to win the World Championship for the first time since 1994.
But whether all eight of those players will stick to their word remains to be seen, and the potential is there for Wade's, James' and Bosh's free agency to muck up the picture in 2010. Still, Krzyzewski and Colangelo expect most -- if not all -- of those core players to be wearing the red, white and blue next summer, and both men will observe from the stands later this week as 23 young NBA players attempt to show enough in three days of scrimmages to be considered for the handful of roster spots that will be up for grabs. Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano will conduct the practices.
"You know what this tells the rest of the world? That the Americans are serious this time. It used to be that you'd never know who would be on the roster and who would be the coach from tournament to tournament. Not anymore," said Triano, a Canadian citizen who coached against the U.S. several times in past years and who led Steve Nash and Team Canada to a first-place finish in pool play at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Colangelo has thrown around the word "continuity" endlessly for the past four years, explaining how the American federation needed to copy what the best teams around the world were doing and develop a program in which the faces pretty much stay the same from year to year. Teams such as Argentina and Spain not only were able to match the Americans talentwise in the early part of this decade but also had the ability to draw upon and exploit the players' familiarity with each other after having grown up together playing for their junior national teams.
But in the post-Beijing self-examination period, Team USA's leaders came to the realization that continuity had to flow from the top down, and the footprints they wanted to leave were deeper than the ones they left back in China this past September.
That's why Colangelo turned more attention toward making the junior team players feel they are part of a grander plan, and why Krzyzewski and his entire staff -- Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks, Nate McMillan of Portland and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse -- re-upped through 2012.
Krzyzewski expects one of the biggest changes the next three summers to be the reception the Americans will receive in European countries. "We won't be the fair-haired boys anymore," he said, recounting how the U.S. teams never played in front of a truly hostile crowd in 2006 or 2008, either in the lead-up to worlds and the Olympics or in the actual tournaments themselves.
Krzyzewski also will usher the Americans into FIBA's new era of rules changes, beginning in 2011, in which the 3-point line will move one meter farther from the basket, the trapezoid lane will be replaced by a rectangular lane and the no-charge zone beneath the basket will be marked with an arc as it is in the NBA.
Eventually, he'll try to bring into the senior team pipeline many of the young players who won gold for the United States earlier this month in the under-19 world championship in New Zealand, and at June's qualifier in Mendoza, Argentina (where the Americans defeated the home team by 14 in the gold-medal game) for next year's inaugural 17-and-under world title. And in discussing those players (and lamenting the NCAA restrictions on how often he can speak to them), Krzyzewski and Colangelo spoke glowingly about how those players were so eager to snap pictures of themselves on the medal podium so they could immediately post those photos to their Facebook pages and emulate their big shot brethren who wore similar uniforms a year ago in Beijing.
These days, both Colangelo and Krzyzewski speak more of "family" and "culture" than they do of "continuity," and they took pride in hearing how the secretary general of FIBA, Patrick Baumann, heaped praise upon them in Beijing in 2008 ("They have given the world a lesson in commitment and hard work and playing as a true team all the time") in noting how the rest of the world now wants to emulate what the Americans have done.
Still, there's no arguing the point that a loss or two between now and the end of the summer of 2012 would tarnish the accomplishments they've already achieved.
Yes, but it goes with the territory.
Worth the risk?
Yes, too, because no matter the outcome, Coach K will never have to look in the mirror and ask himself why he decided to drop out at age 62 when unfinished business remained.
Hence the big gamble going forward.
"What I told my family was, I could imagine being there in Turkey and London, and I know I'd say to myself: 'I know I should be down on the sidelines,' and I'd regret that," Krzyzewski said.
"That would be the biggest loss -- that's how I envisioned it."