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Coach K reflects on NBA players who helped U.S. strike gold

By John Hareas,
Posted Apr 22 2009 4:03PM

NEW YORK -- How badly did Kobe Bryant want to represent the U.S.A. in the Olympics? Let the man who spent every day with Bryant for two straight months last summer explain.

"We were in Las Vegas and the players had to try on their uniforms to make sure that they fit," said Mike Kryzewski, who guided the U.S. team to Olympic gold in Beijing. "They go into this room individually and they're going to try them on and get tailored and Kobe comes to his uniform and it's lying there and has his number and it says USA on it.

"And before he touches his uniform, he just stands there and as he's standing there, he starts crying. And you wouldn't think of him crying. And he starts having a few tears and the guy who's helping with the equipment asks him what's wrong and Kobe said, 'You don't understand. I've always dreamed of playing for my country. I've always dreamed of having the USA uniform on.'"

Krzyzewski, the coach at Duke University, shared this story along with a few other nuggets as he was talking about his latest book, The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team, co-written with his youngest daughter, Jamie Spatola. The book provides a detailed account of the U.S.'s road to gold. spoke to Krzyzewski on Tuesday at the NBA Store in Manhattan on whether he keeps tabs on the team, LeBron James' biggest area of improvement, who will NBA MVP and his future plans with USA Basketball.

Mike Krzyzewski's new book, The Gold Standard, talks about his experiences with the U.S. Men's Olympic team.
Courtesy of Business Plus With 10 of the 12 players from the U.S. team in the Playoffs, have you been keeping track of them?

Krzyzewski: Oh, yeah, but I've followed them throughout the season. I've taken a vested interest in all of those guys because they became your guys. And to see them make the Playoffs makes it that much more exciting, although it's tough to cheer for one team over another. LeBron James often references last summer's Olympic experience as making him a better all-around player, while Dwyane Wade reclaimed his career after being injured the season before. The competition didn't burn out these players, as many claimed it would. If anything, it catapulted them to new levels.

Krzyzewski: I think that competition and that investment that they made in order to be with USA Basketball paid off handsomely because they completely dove into it. They didn't hold back. It wasn't a singular thing, it was part of them becoming better.

In Dwyane's case, he had been out, injured, all of a sudden, he started the NBA season with a high confidence level with his body. LeBron started with an unbelievable enthusiasm after having become a champion at the high level for the first time. I think it helped them tremendously because of what they invested. What is the greatest area of improvement in LeBron's game since he committed to USAB three years ago?

Mike Krzyzewski: His leadership. I think he is natural leader and can be a great leader and became an outstanding leader for us. Now, being one of the leaders on the Olympic team is one thing. Now he is a star and a leader of the leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers and I think it's something he loves. As good of a player he is, I think he's a better leader. Do you think LeBron will win NBA MVP?

Krzyzewski: I think any of those three guys -- LeBron, Dwyane, Kobe -- they're at a whole other level. Each of them would be deserving. I don't watch all of it but every time I turned on a Cavalier game, LeBron is almost getting a triple double. Along with that, LeBron's enthusiasm is contagious with the fans, with the rest of his teammates. He's given confidence to his teammates. A special bond was created on that Olympic team. Have you communicated with those guys throughout the season?

Krzyzewski: Somewhat. I'm not a big text messenger. I'll call or send them something. Not frequently. They have to have their own space. But every once in a while you touch base and they know we're watching them and we're for them. Who among the players established the gold standard on the practice court leading up to the gold medal in Beijing?

Krzyzewski: I think they all did. There wasn't a time when I said, so and so, you need to pick it up. There was a level of expectation of how hard you were going to have to work and what you're going to have to do together. There wasn't one guy. As a college coach, did you experience any anxieties in leading 12 NBA players?

Krzyzewski: Not so much anxieties, but I knew that I had to learn how to work with that group. It wasn't that they should adapt to me but that we should adapt to each other. I felt it would happen but, again, it takes time, because we're all comfortable in our own little settings and now we were on this big setting together and that was part of the process that you had to go through to become a team. Didn't this experience challenge you to get out of your comfort zone from coaching college to NBA players?

Krzyzewski: The challenge to coach the NBA players was exciting to me. I could envision myself being a professional coach. It's just that I want to be a college coach. I love the NBA and I thought it would be exciting to work with all of these guys and also to do it working with Jerry Colangelo. Jerry was just fantastic. Tom Izzo said you and Jerry are a match made in heaven. What's been the key to your successful partnership and chemisty? Is it your Chicago backgrounds?

Krzyzewski: I think similar backgrounds, but also complete honesty and straight-forwardness, being forthright with another. We didn't hold anything back. He told me that I would be joined at the hip with him throughout the process and he didn't lie. I had his back and he got everything we did. The World Championship of Basketball in Turkey is on the horizon in the Summer of 2010. Have you set your own timetable as to whether you will continue to serve as head coach of the U.S. team?

Krzyzewski: No, I don't think there is any rush to name a staff for that yet just because this summer there isn't anything that leads to that World Championship. They'll be a little bit of a get together but it won't be from those main guys and it will be looking at who will be added to the pool of players and who will leave the pool of players that will be on our national pool. When do you anticipate making a decision?

Krzyzewski: Oh, I don't know. There isn't a timetable on it. You have been active in supporting Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. Wouldn't it be a dream of yours to coach the U.S. Men's team should Chicago win that bid?

Krzyzewski: Well, I think that's really far in advance. The main dream would be for Chicago to have the Olympics. I think it would be the best city in the world to have it because it's a microcosm of the entire world -- all of the neighborhoods, the ethnic celebrations you have there are terrific. Chicago would do a wonderful job with the Olympics.

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