Krzyzewski set for final game as US coach

Mike Krzyzewski’s job is nearly finished.

Seven years after taking over a U.S. team that had been stripped

of its power and grip on Olympic basketball, Krzyzewski is down to

one more game.

But before his players take the court Sunday against Spain,

he’ll do what he always does. He will remind them to talk on

defense. Share the ball. Play with pride. Represent their families

and country with honor.

When it ends, before he takes his own final bow, he’ll also

remind them to accept their medals with humility.

The game against Spain is a rematch of the gold-medal game four

years ago in China won by the Americans.

Win, and Krzyzewski walks away with an unmatched legacy.

He had left open the possibility that he’d stay on beyond the

London Games, but Krzyzewski told the Associated Press before

practice on Saturday that he’s stepping down.

Three times, Krzyzewski answered ”yeah” when asked if he was

finished.

Still, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who hired

Krzyzewski in 2005, isn’t going to let him leave without a fight.

He plans to take another shot at persuading Krzyzewski to stay.

”He’s said this is it and I’ll respect his choice,” Colangelo

said. ”But knowing me as I know me, I’ll have that conversation

and we’ll see.”

If this is indeed his last game, the 65-year-old Krzyzewski will

leave having met every expectation.

With a win, Krzyzewski will join Henry Iba (1964 and 1968) as

the only U.S. coaches to lead teams to consecutive Olympic gold

medals. However, Iba, for all his successes, didn’t have to worry

about convincing NBA superstars to buy into his program, juggle the

demands of coaching one of the nation’s top college teams or

compete with an international basketball community filled with

talented players.

Krzyzewski’s selection as national coach in 2005 was viewed as

risky by some. There were doubts if the Duke coach would be able to

get the top pros – players accustomed to always getting their way –

to accept a team-first concept. And, with a limited time to get

them ready, could he get them to learn the more fluid international

game.

With one gold medal – maybe a second – and a world championship

on his resume since 2010, Krzyzewski has succeeded on every

level.

”He’s been able to build kind of a blueprint, a model, for

future coaches in terms of how they deal with players,” said Kobe

Bryant, one of five holdovers from the 2008 gold medal winner. ”In

terms of scheduling, in terms of commitment, he’s kind of

established the mold for the next coach.

”His ability to communicate with players individually has been

fantastic. His ability to constantly keep things fresh and

motivate, that’s something that we’ve appreciated.”

If Colangelo’s the architect of the U.S. program’s

reconstruction, Krzyzewski’s the general contractor.

He’s built it back to where it was in 2000, when the U.S. won

its third straight gold at the Sydney Games. Then came 2004, when

the Americans, coached by Larry Browns, lost three games in Greece

and settled for bronze, finishing behind Italy and Argentina. The

result was shocking.

”We were garbage,” Carmelo Anthony said recently.

Not long after, Colangelo, the former owner Phoenix Suns who had

been named head of USA Basketball, immediately began his search for

a coach to bring America back. With a few personal favorites in

mind, he put together a committee, which presented him with a list

30 NBA and college coaches.

As the group surveyed the names on a board in Chicago, North

Carolina coach Dean Smith, who guided the U.S. Olympic team to gold

in 1976, spoke up.

”We talked about each one of them, and Dean Smith says there’s

only one college coach up there who could do it, and it’s Coach

K,” Colangelo recalled. ”That was his biggest rival. Think of

that. That was one of those moments.”

There have been others since.

Colangelo, who deserves credit for getting Bryant, Anthony,

LeBron James and Chris Paul – the core of the American team – to

commit for more than one Olympics, is effusive in his praise of

Krzyzewski.

”He was the right guy at the right time,” Colangelo said.

”He’s been so important to me in everything we’ve done in building

the infrastructure and philosophy and standards – all of it. His

legacy goes beyond the record on the court. We’re 52-1 since this

all began, and hopefully we’ll be 53-1 after tomorrow. That’s a

legacy in itself.

”I really love him and respect him.”

The feeling is mutual. Krzyzewski believes Colangelo deserves

his own gold medal.

”He’s the biggest difference for USA basketball,” Krzyzewski

said. ”I don’t know when the time comes and he has to give it up

how he’ll be replaced. You can replace a coach and you can replace

players. But what he’s done, I think he is the most irreplaceable

part of this.”

The two men have re-established the U.S. gold standard together,

and Colangelo isn’t the only one who can’t imagine where U.S.

basketball might be if not for Krzyzewski’s imprint.

Coaches don’t receive Olympic medals, but when the Americans

beat Spain four years ago in China, all 12 U.S. players draped

their awards around Krzyzewski’s neck. It was their way of

expressing gratitude to a coach who had pulled them together and

pushed the U.S. back to the top.

Krzyzewski plans to stay with USA basketball after he’s done

coaching. To him, it would be a mistake not to utilize what he’s

learned during this seven-year run.

”I’ll be involved,” he said. ”One thing we screw up in

college is when a John Thompson retires or Bob Knight or Dean

Smith, we don’t use their institutional memory in any way unless

they get on TV or whatever, and it’s really a violation … of

something. It’s really stupid that institutional memory is not

used, and we’ll try to do that with USA basketball.

”If you were in music, you would have wanted somebody who had

played that instrument for 40 or 50 years and played it well.

That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Krzyzewski has done his part.

He’s got one more game, his last note.