LAS VEGAS -- Team USA's journey to the Olympics starts Friday when it plays Argentina in a friendly, in which it will most likely win their 64th consecutive game.
It has now been nearly 10 full years since the Americans lost a game in international competition, a winning streak that started in 2006 with a victory over Argentina in the bronze medal game of the World Championships outside Tokyo. And it has now been nearly 10 years since the lowest moment of coach Mike Krzyzewski's career when Team USA was upset by Greece the game before in the world semifinals.
"The house had burned down. We were disheveled, depressed, ashamed," Krzyzewski said this week. "It was depressing. For me, the biggest disappointment in my coaching career was that game ... you have the honor to coach your national team and it was the end. I apologized to [Team USA managing director] Jerry [Colangelo]."
That has made this Friday's game a bit of a touchstone for Krzyzewski and not just because four of the Argentines from that time are still playing on their national team (Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni). That victory in the bronze medal game may have seemed like a pointless consolation as the Americans failed to win gold in their third straight major event, including the 2004 Olympics. But it was the start of the resurgence that now stands as one of Krzyzewski's greatest accomplishments.
Now in his last year as Team USA coach and with his success in the job assured, it's given him some time for reflection.
"That win [over Argentina] was the start for us," Krzyzewski said. "It showed us how to recover from adversity."
The loss to Greece, in which the team was victimized repeatedly by simple pick-and-roll plays and was often undone by one-on-one style play against a basic zone, still remains as an identifiable blemish. But that comeback win against Argentina, which was the Olympic champion at the time, was perhaps the best win for Team USA since the 2000 Olympics. It happened just 24 hours after the Greece loss as critics at home were still feasting on what looked like another basketball embarrassment.
"The shock and disappointment was real. We didn't know what to expect in terms of playing the next game," Colangelo said.
"As we look back now, it was very important. We haven't looked back since."
During that summer 10 years ago, Krzyzewski was guilty of hubris and it carried over to his team. In his first year on the job he'd promised to pay respect to the international game and the non-NBA players who'd given the Americans six losses combined in the 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics.
Yet he quickly declared that he'd never play zone defense despite having zone master Jim Boeheim on his coaching staff. Then during the tournament he sometimes was so unfamiliar with the opponents that he referred to them by jersey number instead of name.
"The stuff we had done up to that point, we realized we didn't know what we were doing yet and what we were supposed to do," Krzyzewski said. "It was a continuation of so-called failure. It wasn't just the game, it was a 'oh here we go again.' I don't think anyone was afraid of what people were going to say, it was what we felt. No one could say anything to make us feel worse."
Krzyzewski started LeBron James at point guard in that bronze medal game, his first move in which he realized he needed to give James more responsibility going forward.
He worked together with Dwyane Wade, who had one of the best games of his international career that night.
Krzyzewski then went through with numerous other changes, including installing a zone defense for use in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007 and upgrading the scouting to make sure the team was always more prepared for the opposition.
"Out of adversity comes opportunity," Colangelo said. "It was a wake-up call, even though it was just at the beginning of our journey, that no matter how much talent you have on any given night, you don't get much more of a learning experience than that."
As the results have shown -- Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 plus World Cup wins in 2010 and 2014 -- the turnaround has worked. Krzyzewski and Colangelo now have the program running with continuity, depth and balance year over year. Despite the gruesome injury to Paul George two years ago and the safety and health concerns surrounding these upcoming Olympics, demand to get on the roster from top players remains robust. And they have an extremely accomplished and respected successor for Coach K lined up in Gregg Popovich, who is preparing to take over coaching duties after Rio.
A lot of the initial traction toward all of it started with that bounce-back victory that night at the Saitama Super Arena in 2006.
"That experience forced us to learn about the environment we wanted to be successful in instead of bringing our environment into there and expecting success," Krzyzewski said. "We understood that at that point and we understand it now."