Coach K will help USA basketball stay the course
Posted July 8, 2009
Stability – it’s the backbone of any successful franchise.
Whether you’re talking about corporate America, an NFL team, college athletics or your favorite restaurant, managerial stability is the oft-underlying principle that separates one-hit wonders from enduring powerhouses.
Very rarely do football dynasties change a signal-caller midway through their reign.
Few and far between are the college basketball or football programs that achieve consecutive decades of success with a revolving door leading into and out of their coaching offices.
For a long time, talent alone was enough to render the constancy issue moot in the world of USA basketball.
That era is behind us.
After winning 14 of the first 16 gold medals the U.S. competed for at the Summer Olympic games (the team didn’t participate in the boycotted games of 1980 and won the silver and bronze in 1972 and 1988 respectively), our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society was wondering what was happening to a once-invincible team that had suddenly become so vulnerable.
The success of the "Dream Team" was long gone, and in its place was USA basketball’s worst nightmare – the rest of the world had caught up to, and even surpassed, the once mighty basketball empire.
After finishing sixth in the 2002 World Championships, a tournament that featured the USA’s first three losses to international competition since being allowed to include professional players on its roster (to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain), red flags began to rise.
The 2004 Olympics, a bronze-medal showing that included the worst international loss in U.S. history (19-points to Puerto Rico), was another, more prominent reminder that something needed to be done if Uncle Sam’s team was to return to the top of the figurative and literal international basketball pedestal.
Enter Jerry Colangelo.
The former long-time Phoenix Suns general manager and four-time NBA Executive of the Year wanted a three-year commitment, for 2006 World Championships and 2008 Olympics, from any players seeking to wear the USA on their chest.
The idea was a radical one, but it was necessary in an era when playing for the red, white and blue became more a matter of convenience than civic duty for some of the sport’s highest-paid, and supremely talented, players.
The man Colangelo chose to lead his team was Mike Krzyzewski, and four years later, Coach K seems to be on the verge of doing his part to keep things whole.
In an interview with the AP, Colangelo was recently quoted as saying: "With the success that we had, I would do everything in my power to keep everything intact. I'm a strong believer in not upsetting the apple cart.”
After winning the gold in Beijing in impressive fashion, many wondered how many players, or coaches, would be around for an encore in 2012.
First round wins over China, Angola, Greece, Spain (the world champions) and Germany by an average of 32.2 points had people talking like they did about the USA of old.
Subsequent victories over Australia, Argentina (a team that had knocked off the U.S. in Athens), and Spain, sealed the 2008 Olympic Team’s place in history.
It is in that place, at the top of the basketball world, that Coach K will help the USA remain.
By staying on with the team, his relationships with players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James won’t have to be re-created by someone else that doesn't already have the same level of chemistry.
Moreover, the system Krzyzewski installed will be familiar to those that return to the squad – a welcome difference from the days when coaching changes meant differences in philosophy and on-court execution.
There will be those who question his ability to continue to run Duke’s program, especially in light of arch-rival North Carolina’s recent dominance of the college basketball landscape, and time will tell if that argument holds water.
For now, the Hall of Famer is doing what’s best for his nation.
A repeat gold in London is far from a forgone conclusion, but Mike Krzyzewski’s likely return to the sidelines of the United States senior national team means that the team’s biggest off-the-court issue in recent years – stability – is no longer an Achilles ’ heel, but a strength.