Coach Mike Krzyzewski (or Coach K to those who prefer not to get their tongue tied) of Duke University and the United States Olympic basketball team, was recently interviewed on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.” He was fresh off coaching that team to a gold medal victory over Spain, and he was asked to reflect on that experience. Towards the end of his interview, Michael Wilbon asked Coach K if his positive Olympic experience could possibly sway him into considering a head coaching position in the NBA.
First Coach K took the time to praise the NBA players and assistant coaches he had worked with during and leading up to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Then, he succinctly said to Wilbon and the rest to the viewing public, “I’m not coaching in the NBA.”
At that moment, Duke fans all over the country rejoiced. Non-Duke fans were probably angry that the man who had been the target of their angst for so long, would still be around to terrorize them and their respective college teams. As a hoops addict, and a fan of basketball, I can honestly say I was disappointed to hear Krzyzewski forgo the NBA so easily.
One look at Krzyzewski ‘s resume and it is apparent that he is more than qualified to coach any team at any level. Between his five years at Army and his 28 years at Duke, he has amassed 803 victories against just 267 losses for a 75 percent winning percentage. He has coached his teams to three National Championships and has coached NBA stars like Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, and most famously Grant Hill. Eight of his former assistants and players have moved on to become head coaches in college, headlined by the recent hire of Johnny Dawkins at Stanford University.
That type of vast experience led USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo to approach Krzyzewski and ask him to help the United States basketball reclaim their dominance on the Olympic front. Colangelo has been the architects of many successful Phoenix Suns teams over the past 30 years, and for him to turn to Krzyzewski is quite an honor indeed. So if he had faith that Krzyzewski could succeed with NBA player under that type of intense scrutiny, a head coaching job in the NBA would seemingly be the next logical progression, especially given the current NBA climate.
Ten years ago, the average player NBA had attended college for up to three years, had been to a few NCAA tournaments, and entered the league ready to contribute right away. The NBA had been an option to these kids a few years earlier, but it was just assumed that they would spend time in college honing their skills. Even when you examine the 1998 NBA All Star game roster, 21 of the 24 players who were selected to that team played at least two years of college. Coaches back then were expected to manage the game and the egos, more than they were expected to coach.
In 2008, the climate of the NBA has changed drastically. For an NBA player to stay in college for up to three years is becoming more and more rare. Players are going from high school to one, maybe two years of college, and then they are jumping straight to the NBA. General Managers and owners are drafting more and more players based on their potential, rather than what they have accomplished. The seasoned college player has given way to the raw, inexperienced player who has a tremendous upside and room to grow. Coaches are not only required to manage egos and the game, but they are need to pick up the slack and teach as well. Given that Krzyzewski has shown that he can do that in college and the pros with great aplomb, he would be the perfect compliment to any NBA team right now.
The closest any team has come to luring Krzyzewski away from Duke University were the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2004. Phil Jackson had just resigned, and Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and General Manager, Mitch Kupchak were extremely vigilant in trying to get Coack K. Kobe Bryant lobbied hard via the media to make this happen, but it was to no avail. He eventually decided that the empire he had built at Duke was simply too much to walk away from. That was four years ago.
Since he shunned the Lakers in 2004, Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils have not made the Final Four. That is a drought of four years, and it represents the second-longest Final Four drought of his Duke coaching career.
No one doubts his abilities as a coach anymore, but the stakes in college basketball have changed. Krzyzewski expects his kids to succeed in the classroom and on the basketball court, but in this current climate of NBA or bust, kids do not want to be shackled like that, and as a result the elite players bypass Duke. He is still putting competitive teams on the court, but the dominance he routinely enjoyed before may have passed him by. This is why he needed in the NBA.
Moments after his team defeated Spain, Krzyzewski met the media with his star players to revel in the victory. During that press conference, he uttered the sentence, “Everyone played at the highest level, and it brought out the best in us.”
As an NBA fan, I cannot help but to wonder if Coach K was coaching at that highest level, if it would also bring the very best out in him.
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