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Testing his mettle with NBA stars

Krzyzewski sets sights on gold

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI A learning experience MIKE KRZYZEWSKI A learning experience
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / June 30, 2008

LAS VEGAS - Mike Krzyzewski has been to 24 NCAA Tournaments, won three championships and 803 games. The Basketball Hall of Famer was an assistant coach for the gold medal-winning "Dream Team" in Barcelona in 1992, and was named "America's Best Coach" in any sport six years ago by Time and CNN.

But as illustrious as Coach K's résumé already is, if he could lead the United States to its first Olympic gold since 2000 this summer in Beijing, he would put that feat at the top.

"The gold medal would be the biggest thing in my coaching career because it represents our country," Krzyzewski said yesterday. "There are no words to describe how I would feel if we'd win it."

The NBA stars Krzyzewski will coach offered high praise for him during Saturday's practice. But initially, some members of the NBA community were critical of managing director Jerry Colangelo's decision to hire Krzyzewski. Skeptics believed an NBA coach would be a better choice.

But after compiling a 23-1 record and earning an Olympic berth by winning the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships, Krzyzewski has proven to be a solid hire.

"In sport, that's what it is," Krzyzewski said. "You'll have people who think it is going to work or isn't going to work or it will only work if you tweak it a certain way.

"I don't pay attention to the good talk or the negative talk. My feeling on it is it's all about people. Whether it would be a college coach or an NBA coach, the learning curve for the international game is the same. Both groups don't coach the international game.

"I wasn't politicking for the job because I felt I was past that window. When the Dream Team came in [1992], I was an assistant, I felt a learning curve was there. And as far as coaching and getting to them in relationships, I thought in some respects I'd have a better chance of doing that because it's not like they're competing against me. I'm not the Knicks coach or the Bulls coach. I don't even coach in their league."

While getting the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony to jell as one, Krzyzewski said he learned a lot from the players and his assistant coaches.

"It's helped me because it's made me a better coach," Krzyzewski said. "You learn from being with [assistants] Mike [D'Antoni], Nate [McMillan], and Jim [Boeheim] competing against a whole new set of coaches and being around these players watching their work habits, things they may say and how we're going to defend this. 'Well coach, this is something I like to do.' 'Oh, I've never thought of that.' "

After serious consideration, Krzyzewski turned down coaching opportunities with the Celtics in 1990 and the Lakers in 2004. And even though he's fared well coaching NBA players for USA Basketball, he no longer has ambitions of coaching in the NBA.

"No. Not even close," Krzyzewski said. "Coaching in the NBA would have been incredibly attractive. But [at] this time in my career, it's not an alternative. After achieving something in my 40s, it would be a viable option. And it almost was a few years ago with the Lakers. I seriously thought about that.

"But once I got past that, you're 61. Not that you're not going to coach for a while, but I love Duke and college. It wouldn't be the right thing. But I love the NBA and I love it even more after being around all these guys."

Krzyzewski won't be back after his three-year commitment is completed at the end of the Olympics. During the three-year span, he said his family life was affected more by the commitment than his job with Duke. He does, however, plan on helping USA Basketball in the future.

Krzyzewski believes it's vital that Colangelo remains involved with USA Basketball. Colangelo's commitment was also for three years and he's undecided about his plans. Krzyzewski wants to show his appreciation for Colangelo's role by putting "an exclamation point on it by winning" the gold.

"I'm going to continue to coach at Duke," Krzyzewski said. "The person I hope will continue on is Jerry. We need Jerry."

After the Celtics won the NBA title, Krzyzewski sent a congratulatory text message to the franchise's managing partner, Stephen Pagliuca, whose son, Joe, played at Duke as a walk-on under Krzyzewski. Coach K congratulated the Celtics owners for sticking with Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, winning the title, and the character of the team.

"I really appreciated getting that message," said the elder Pagliuca.

"Watching them play defense, especially [Kevin] Garnett anchoring the defense, was good to watch," Krzyzewski said. "Also, it was a total team effort. Their bench was so good. Everyone will give credit, rightfully so, to [Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen]. But that bench? I thought Doc Rivers used it masterfully. When I was going to West Point and coaching there, the Celtics were the team that I loved."

Team USA departed for New York yesterday to engage in Nike promotions today, including the uniform unveiling at Rockefeller Center. The squad will return to practice here July 21 in preparation for the Olympics.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com.

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