LAS VEGAS — Mike Krzyzewski thought he was done with USA Basketball. He said he was done, too.
After helping Team USA win two straight Olympic gold medals, there appeared little left for him to accomplish. After the team won in London last summer, Krzyzewski prepared to walk away.
It didn’t take long for Jerry Colangelo to know that Krzyzewski wasn’t as resolute in his stance as he made it seem. Just a couple of weeks after their triumph in London, the two reconvened in Springfield, Mass., for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And that’s when Colangelo, the managing director for USA Basketball, knew there was still a chance.
“He was having withdrawal already,” Colangelo said. Ten months after Colangelo first saw that gleam return to Krzyzewski’s eye, and three months after the coach made his return official, the two men are back to work at a four-day camp that began Monday. As Krzyzewski sat down in a chair outside a meeting room at the Wynn resort with a red polo and the USA logo on the left breast, he said he spent most of Duke’s college season last year fully convinced he wouldn’t be back for a run at a third gold.
“Throughout the year I did not think I would be coaching (Team USA),” Krzyzewski told The Associated Press before the camp kicked off. “I just felt that that wasn’t going to happen. But then after discussions, not just talking with Jerry, but my staff and my family, to be given that opportunity again, it’s something I’m really excited about and feel very honored and privileged to have that opportunity.”
When Krzyzewski leads the Americans at the Rio Olympics in 2016, he’ll join Henry Iba as the only coaches in U.S. history to coach in three Olympics. Together with Colangelo, Krzyzewski has changed the culture of USA Basketball and restored some sense of pride, professionalism and prestige to a brand that was tarnished after a bronze medal finish in Athens in 2004.
A big sign of the change? Because the Americans won gold in London last summer, they do not have to participate in any qualifying tournaments this summer for the 2014 World Cup in Madrid.
There is nothing to play for. And yet this is still the place to be.
Twenty-eight of the best young players in the country are here for four days of workouts that essentially mark the kickoff of 2016 preparations. Anthony Davis, who played sparingly last summer, is the only player with Olympic experience. Others like Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Paul George have come to try to make a good impression in hopes of being included on the World Cup team next summer.
They are still holding out hope some of the younger players from London – Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, among others – will play in Spain next year. But Krzyzewski will also use the time to get acquainted with new assistants Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams.
“People want to be with USA Basketball. They should,” Krzyzewski said. “But for a while there, they didn’t. It enjoys now, primarily because of Jerry’s leadership, a really high status, which we need to maintain. You’re not just given that status. You have to earn it.”
Krzyzewski certainly deserves plenty of credit as well. He’s among the most respected names in coaching, and his decision to get involved in the first place, and stay involved for three tours, has underlined the importance USA Basketball has in the hoops landscape.
“What it says about him is he could’ve sat back and said, ‘I won the two gold medals and I’ve done my thing,’” Colangelo said. “But he’s a competitive guy. He has set himself apart from everyone already in terms of coaching. But he’s still willing to put himself out there on the plank. And I love that.”