The one who came back for Team USA

MADRID, Spain -- Kevin Durant. Kevin Love. Blake Griffin. LaMarcus Aldridge. Russell Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard.

And, of course, poor Paul George.

We've spent so much time over these past few months fixated on every name we thought we'd see in Spain -- and didn't -- that the masses can presumably recite them all by now without even needing to reread the list.

Yet so little is ever said, strangely, about the guy who came back to this team when he wasn't supposed to.

What about Mike Krzyzewski?

I know, I know. Any coach could win international tournaments with these guys, right? That's what lots of you are bound to say if Team USA makes it to 9-0 at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with the expected victory over the Cinderellas from Serbia in Sunday night's title game at the Palacio de los Deportes.

How soon we forget that, as recently as Wednesday morning, plenty of folks throughout the world of international basketball, when pressed, would have picked Spain over the weakened squad Krzyzewski has here.

You know.

Back when Spain was still in the tournament.

But that's the way it is with this job, which we habitually refer to in this cyberspace as the only gig Krzyzewski could have found on Planet Roundball that makes life on the Duke campus seem pressure-free.

When it comes to legacy and reputation, Krzyzewski seemingly had little to gain and much to lose when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo successfully persuaded him to stay on for four more years after Krzyzewski vowed that the London Olympics in 2012 would be his international farewell.

He couldn't have been faulted for second-guessing his return, either, once Team USA was hit with that steady stream of defections -- along with George's horrific leg injury -- to give Spain's deepest squad ever what seemed like legitimate hope of finally toppling the mighty Americans.

But Krzyzewski hasn't flinched all summer. He knows he's got the youngest group of players USA Basketball has assembled since it started using pros instead of collegians in 1992, but Coach K has eagerly supplied the needed calm and experience to help the supposed second-stringers cope with the unique expectations that only Team USA shoulders.

Example: At more than one halftime so far, with Team USA holding a mere single-digit lead, Krzyzewski has surprised his own players with a restrained approach, convinced that "you can't be ranting and raving" if it takes awhile to stretch the lead.

He's also convinced that the know-how to handle that sort of scrutiny and don't-ever-lose expectations, after nine years in charge, is one of the strongest attributes he brings to the job.

"We know," Krzyzewski says, "that we're watched closer than anybody. And I'm the most prepared [coach] to do that, because we've been closely scrutinized for at least 25 years in college basketball. Actually it helps that I'm coming from that environment.

"Another thing I think that helps when we're in these competitions is that one-and-done is what we live all the time, whether it's an ACC tournament or an NCAA tournament. I've been in 150 to 200 one-and-done games."

The next one, incidentally, figures to be trickier than it sounds after a run of games that has been undeniably favorable for the Yanks until now. It's believed to be a tournament first that Serbia has managed to make it all the way to the title game after losing three times in pool play, but don't forget those losses were to three perennial powers: Spain, France and Brazil. The Serbs, furthermore, are clearly a different team now than they were in Group A play, clicking to a degree that they routed both Greece and Brazil in the knockout phase before taking an 18-point lead over France in the semifinals and then hanging on to oust Spain's quarterfinals conquerors.

"The hottest team in the tournament besides us," Team USA swingman Klay Thompson called them.

Big men Miroslav Raduljica and Nenad Krstic, as well as recent Phoenix Suns draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic, are essentially the only names familiar to NBA audiences, but it's a tough, veteran team with real chemistry. The presence of the ultraconfident Milos Teodosic, meanwhile, means that Team USA has to deal with a modern-day Dejan Bodiroga … in that the dangerous Teodosic, like the legendary Bodiroga before him, is good enough to play in the NBA but simply chooses not to.‎

Teodosic, 27, resisted serious overtures from the Memphis Grizzlies as recently as summer 2013 because, according to industry sources, he wants at least $3 million annually to make the jump to the NBA. And now his stock has never been higher after leading Serbia -- which barely qualified for this World Cup as the seventh-place finisher at EuroBasket 2013 -- to its first major final since becoming an independent nation in 2006.

"They're strong," Krzyzewski said. "They can hurt you from many different positions. Actually it's beautiful to see. I [just] hope I don't see that beauty tomorrow night. They've been playing lights-out basketball."

Strong enough to beat the NBAers in red, white and blue?

Strong enough to put a halt to Krzyzewski's 62-game win streak?

Highly doubtful no matter how cushy it's been for Team USA to this point with that average margin of victory of (yikes) 32.5 points.

With all those star names missing, USAB wound up assembling a roster somewhat Duke-like in nature, going 12 deep and built very pragmatically to give Krzyzewski numerous options and combinations to counter any issues that arose. Credit Coach K for getting this group to buy into a defense-first mentality and a spread-the-wealth offense that features no one scoring more than 13 points per game.

"If we just keep wearing on teams," Thompson said of Team USA's trusty defensive pressure, "I think we're almost unbeatable."

Said reserve forward Rudy Gay: "That’s the only way we are going to win. We have to swarm teams, make it seem like we have 10 players out there instead of five."

Hearing sentiments like that naturally has Krzyzewski beaming.

"I think our country should be proud of this team," he said. "They've represented our country really well. In everything.‎ How they've handled themselves. How they've played. Just everything.

"I haven't had even remotely a problem with these guys … and I bet a number of them never felt they would be on the team."

This time two years ago, Krzyzewski didn't think he'd be here, either. Yet he couldn't resist Colangelo's lobbying, since both men have invested so much to drag the program away from the horrors of 2002 (sixth at the Worlds in Indianapolis) and 2004 (bronze at the Athens Olympics).

Krzyzewski is committed now to stay on through the 2016 Olympics and can clinch a summer off in 2015 by winning Sunday to secure automatic qualification for Rio.

"I like my team a lot," Krzyzewski said. "I trust my team. … We've had a lot of interruptions and [these players have] never made any excuses. They should be in this position to play for a world championship."