Had he never accepted the head coaching job of the USA men's basketball national team in 2005, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski might have been considering retirement right about now.
Farfetched? Maybe, maybe not.
Being the leader of the national team has revitalized the 66-year old Krzyzewski like nothing college basketball, or maybe even the NBA, could have done for him. Those close to him say it has added at least 10 years to his career, maybe more.
“USA basketball has helped energize me," Krzyzewski said on a conference call Thursday after accepting Jerry Colangelo's offer to lead the Americans yet again.
“I’ve learned so much over the last seven years. It made me a better coach. Instead of reducing my shelf life, it has added to it. I believe it will do that over the next four years also.’’
Krzyzewski will go for a second FIBA World Cup of Basketball title (that's the new name for the World Championships) in 2014 in Madrid and a third Olympic gold in Brazil in 2016. And he’ll also be coaching Duke during that time frame, regularly challenging for the ACC and national title.
He has the most wins in Division I history and four national titles to his name. He's done just about everything a coach can do.
And yet Coach K still says the USA basketball experience continues to offer up educational opportunities.
“USA basketball gave me good ideas in the ‘90s (when he was an assistant coach on the Dream Team) and in the early 2000s too,’’ Krzyzewski said. “We were just OK for a few years at Duke. But USA has definitely helped me. I know I’m a better coach. You just learn more and learn so much more. It has helped me a lot.’’
Any appetite he might have had for trying his hand as an NBA coach? Satisfied by his experience with USA basketball. Coach K has the best of both worlds now where he can coach an American all-star team for national pride and unity every two years and still maintain his presence at Duke. He doesn’t have to deal with the NBA grind. He gets his fix.
Colangelo said Thursday he never waffled on his desire to keep Krzyzewski around, despite the coach's announcement that he was stepping down. There was speculation outside USA basketball on who the next coach would be, but never any conversations internally about replacing Coach K. The plan was always to give Krzyzewski space and then move on him after Duke's season was over.
Krzyzewski said there were discussions at the Final Four and the latest agreement to coach the team was completed in Las Vegas earlier this month. He had to sit down with Duke officials and of course his family to finalize his commitment.
They were fully on board as long as he really wanted to do it and did not feel forced into a decision. Coaching the Americans, much like Duke, has become a family affair for the Krzyzewskis. His wife and daughters and their extended family have gone on the trips abroad and are invested in the USA program, just like they are at Duke. His staff, notably assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski and former assistant Chris Collins, now the head coach at Northwestern, were court coaches and advance scouts for the national team.
Through the year, leading Team USA and Duke has been seamless.
The two seasons do not overlap and coaching the national team will not obstruct anything he has to do this summer in recruiting. His only real duty for Team USA will be coaching an intrasquad scrimmage July 25 in Vegas between 24 of the younger American players in the national system.
Krzyzewski said there will be some changes on the roster, which has happened under his watch and is inevitable. But having coaching consistency on the national team (Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Wednesday he would be assisting again, but it’s not official yet and neither are the other two assistant spots) and on the junior national teams is something the United States lacked for decades.
Florida’s Billy Donovan and one (VCU's Shaka Smart) of his two assistants from last year’s gold-medal winning U-18 national team are back to coach the U-19 team in a tournament in the Czech Republic in July.
Having coaches return sounds normal, but it was foreign in USA basketball until Colangelo got on board.
“When I took over in 2005, we had to change the culture and change the respect we had in the world basketball community,’’ Colangelo said. “Some of those countries did a terrific job of their infrastructure and continuity. They had players play together for years and years.
“We have an academic program here [college] and they have club programs, so it’s easier to keep the players together in the other countries. We have a hybrid and to develop continuity it starts with our 16-year-olds. We’ve got it well-tuned and as long as it keeps going, this infrastructure, USA basketball will have a bright future."