Krzyzewski: Olympics helped me and Duke
Posted August 15, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski, head basketball coach of Duke University and Team USA, is back in the states after coaching the US to an Olympic gold, a success he highly attributes to the play of LeBron James.
"I love LeBron. I thought he was our leader and our best player and I think he’s going to keep getting better," said Krzyzewski. "In 2008 he was already really good. He was terrific. He had become an outstanding defender. Now in '12, he’s the best player on this planet.
"Physically he can play every position on the court, both offensively and defensively, and play it at the highest level. He’s brilliant. He has a great voice and is an outstanding leader."
Coach K started coaching James in 2006 and said in 2008 the young superstar went through one of the worst years someone could have without being in any legal trouble, but he challenged him to learn from those experiences.
"He’s been in a lot of situations ... He’s gotten beat. He’s probably said a couple things he didn’t mean but we’ve all done that. When he does it or doesn’t do it, it becomes something bigger," said Krzyzewski. "In the last few months, winning the championship like he did and then stepping forward and committing again, eight to ten days after they won, he’s in training camp with us. For 38-40 days he’s been our leader. He’s never complained about anything. After it was over I had a talk with him in the locker room and said 'Man don’t do anything with basketball for a while, just get away from the game. You had a year that only two other people have had, with MVP, championship and Olympics, and that’s Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. You deserve to be in that company'."
This past Olympics James was older and more mature, and the entire team Krzyzewski brought to London was much different than the team he headed up in 2008.
"In ’08 you had a team that was 'the redeem team', you’re coming off of losses in 2002, 04 and 06 when the gold medal was not won in those competitions. So there was that aspect of it. We had big guys in Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, we had a younger LeBron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Carmelo (Anthony). We had more of a conventional basketball team, an outstanding team but you had centers and forwards and guards. Now in '12 we’re coming off the win in Beijing, the World Championships in Istanbul.
"It’s different when you keep winning. And then we lost all these big guys, Dwight, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, LeMarcus Aldridge, and all of a sudden we had a different type of team that we all had to put together. And I thought the competition was better. The world keeps getting better. There are more teams capable of winning the gold medal. I think in Beijing there were probably three... us, Spain and Argentina. Here there were probably at least six, those same three teams, Russia, France and Brazil. I think all had a shot. It’s getting better and our guys had to adjust to a different style of play, which they did really well."
But even throughout those adjustments Krzyzewski admitted that at one point he thought they might fall short of the gold. And it all came down to one play, when Argentina guard Facundo Campazzo hit Carmelo Anthony in the groin while he was shooting a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter during the Americans' eventual 126-97 victory.
"I don’t know what the rule is about suspensions and stuff like that," said Krzyzewski. "But at that point I’m thinking, 'Are we going to lose the Olympics because this guy punched Carmelo in the groin and my guys get in a fight?'."
Krzyzewski said he talked to his friend, Argentina and Phoenix Suns player, Luis Scola in the hotel following the game.
"I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was like ‘Do you know what your guy just did?’," recalled Krzyzewski. "In Chicago if someone did something like that there’d be something going on right now. I mean he hit him right in the groin, I mean not hit him he punched him right in the groin."
Krzyzewski said if anything were to come from the uncalled for hit, he wanted to be the person to say something because he didn't want to risk his players being suspended.
Unlike his usual demeanor, Krzyzewski stayed fairly even keeled throughout the games.
"When I’m coaching the National Team I try to be less visible during a ball game and not as demonstrative. I think the ACC officials would like it better if I did that," joked Krzyzewski. "You have to be careful because you have [the referees] once, ...you have to make sure you don’t jump on anybody or get emotional because that could screw things up for a game."
After seven years at the helm, Krzyzewski says his time as head coach is done but knows it helped him, and Duke, to be a part of it.