DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski just couldn’t pass on “the ultimate honor” of representing his country again as the U.S. men’s national team coach.
Krzyzewski is returning as coach through 2016, extending a run that included leading the Americans to two straight Olympic golds while helping reshape a program that needed a jolt to keep up with the growth of international basketball.
“I really thought I wasn’t going to do it,” Krzyzewski said during a news conference Thursday. “But now that I am doing it, I can tell you I am doing it with 100 percent commitment and passion — but with seven years of experience of having done it before.”
Krzyzewski, 66, took over as coach as USA Basketball began its national-team program in 2005. Since then, Krzyzewski has led the U.S. men’s team filled with NBA stars to Olympic gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. He also led the Americans to the gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, and the team has a 50-game winning streak dating back to 2006.
Krzyzewski — a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a former Army captain who also spent five years as coach at West Point — had said several times that London would be the final stop of his international coaching career. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo wanted to wait on any discussion until after Krzyzewski finished his season with Duke.
His patience paid off, prompting Colangelo — speaking by teleconference — to say he was happy to continue what had been “a heck of a ride and a great journey.”
“I’m kind of old-fashioned, I never really accepted the fact he wasn’t coming back,” Colangelo said. “I felt time would be what he needed in terms of a tonic to … weigh the positives and whatever negatives there may be. I just think it’s a perfect fit for him.
“I think his legacy is very much tied to USA Basketball as it is certainly is to Duke University. I could not have picked a better guy to be in that foxhole with than Coach K.”
Colangelo apparently didn’t miss an opportunity to persuade Krzyzewski to return. The coach said Colangelo took his wife, Mickie, to dinner as part of his push and once tried to sell him on returning over a meal of “room-service pizza and some chicken fingers.”
“You got me pretty cheap,” Krzyzewski quipped.
Krzyzewski said he conferred with his family before deciding to return. He has also said several times over the years that being the U.S. coach has made him better at his job at Duke, where he has won most of his 957 career victories to rank as the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history. He’s won four NCAA championships, reached 11 Final Fours and won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments with the Blue Devils.
Last year, Duke notched its 13th 30-win season before falling to eventual champion Louisville in the NCAA regional finals.
“I got better doing it,” Krzyzewski said of his time as U.S. coach. “Just like a player gets better from doing it, we all got better. And that energizes you because it’s like a teacher learning new material. I’m 66. I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel at 66. I never think of my age. … But I feel energetic, passionate, wanting to achieve.”
Krzyzewski’s commitment to coach the team means he will be on the bench for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain as well as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. His oncourt work over the next four summers begins with a team mini-camp in Las Vegas in July.
With Krzyzewski in charge, the Americans are 62-1 over the last seven years.
NBA players were first used in the 1992 Olympics and an NBA coach had always led the team during that time. But as international competition steadily improved, once-invulnerable American teams finished sixth in the 2002 FIBA World Championship then lost three times en route to a bronze in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Krzyzewski’s first U.S. team ended up with a bronze during the 2006 World Championship, but has won ever since. Along the way, NBA players like LeBron James have praised Krzyzewski’s work melding a collection of stars into a cohesive team.
The coach sounds eager to get started again.
“I’ve loved it and I think the players have loved it, and I think people can see that,” Krzyzewski said. “And you want to do it again. I think people think that because we have all these guys, you just roll out the ball and you’re going to win. That’s a very arrogant way of looking at it, and it’s that arrogance that got us into the spot we were before and thinking that no one’s good.”