LONDON – Mike Krzyzewski’s job is nearly finished.
Seven years after taking over a U.S. team that had been stripped of its power and grip on Olympic basketball, Krzyzewski is down to one more game.
But before his players take the court today against Spain, he’ll do what he always does. He will remind them to talk on defense. Share the ball. Play with pride. Represent their families and country with honor.
When it ends, before he takes his final bow, he’ll also remind them to accept their medals with humility.
The game against Spain is a rematch of the gold-medal game four years ago in China won by the Americans.
Win, and Krzyzewski walks away with an unmatched legacy.
He had left open the possibility that he’d stay on beyond the London Games, but Krzyzewski told the Associated Press before practice on Saturday that he’s stepping down.
Three times, Krzyzewski answered “yeah” when asked if he was finished.
Still, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who hired Krzyzewski in 2005, isn’t going to let him leave without a fight. He plans to take another shot at persuading Krzyzewski to stay.
“He’s said this is it and I’ll respect his choice,” Colangelo said. “But knowing me as I know me, I’ll have that conversation and we’ll see.”
If this is indeed his last game, the 65-year-old Krzyzewski will leave having met every expectation.
With a win, Krzyzewski will join Henry Iba (1964 and 1968) as the only U.S. coaches to lead teams to consecutive Olympic gold medals. However, Iba, for all his successes, didn’t have to worry about convincing NBA superstars to buy into his program, juggle the demands of coaching one of the nation’s top college teams or compete with an international basketball community filled with talented players.
Krzyzewski’s selection as national coach in 2005 was viewed as risky by some. There were doubts if the Duke coach would be able to get the top pros – players accustomed to always getting their way – to accept a team-first concept. And, with a limited time to get them ready, could he get them to learn the more fluid international game.
With one gold medal – maybe a second – and a world championship on his resume since 2010, Krzyzewski has succeeded on every level.
“He’s been able to build kind of a blueprint, a model, for future coaches in terms of how they deal with players,” said Kobe Bryant, one of five holdovers from the 2008 gold-medal winner. “In terms of scheduling, in terms of commitment, he’s kind of established the mold for the next coach.
“His ability to communicate with players individually has been fantastic. His ability to constantly keep things fresh and motivate, that’s something that we’ve appreciated.”
If Colangelo’s the architect of the U.S. program’s reconstruction, Krzyzewski’s the general contractor.
He’s built it back to where it was in 2000, when the U.S. won its third straight gold at the Sydney Games before having to settle for bronze in Greece in 2004.