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Coach K talks USA hoops, Duke's disappointing end last season

DURHAM, N.C. -- Team USA was capable of winning a title this past summer. Duke was not.

Team USA is the favorite to win the gold medal in Beijing in 2008. Duke can be an ACC contender again.

That is the reality for Duke and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski as he starts his 28th year in Durham.

"It hasn't been a hard transition, coaching the country's team,'' Krzyzewski said in a wide-ranging interview late last month inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"I love coaching at Duke, but it's different than coaching the U.S. You have to win and represent the country well. You have to win every game and be good in every game, which is fine. We have the capability of doing that. ... [At Duke] this team is a lot better and a lot more capable than last year's team. Last year's team, we were trying to fight for everything; not everyone around us knew that. It's like when someone who has been rich lost a lot of money. They still have to act rich, but they'll want someone else to pick up the check.''

Krzyzewski is genuinely in a good place right now. Team USA couldn't be going any better. Duke is still Duke, and the fiefdom is in good hands.

Still, with Krzyzewski, there is always plenty to discuss:

Last season's fade

Duke finished 22-11, 8-8 in the ACC, losing to NC State in the first round of the ACC tournament by five and then dropping a two-point game to VCU in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. Duke ended up losing its last four games of the season.

"We basically ran out of gas,'' Krzyzewski said. "And I could not put more gas in them, and so in the ACC tournament and the NCAA, you have a group of kids, I think they were really tired. ... If we were a military unit, we were on the front line too long.

"In evaluating things, how could I have done a better job of keeping them fresher? That's how I look at the season. By the end, we were dead.''

Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils had to expend so much energy to win games that they couldn't keep up the pace.

He also pointed out that the Blue Devils were 18-3 at one point, with the youngest team at Duke since World War II.

Duke had a very un-Duke season. The Blue Devils pulled off five straight ACC wins in January but then lost two games by a total of three points at Virginia and at home to Florida State. After losing two more for a four-game skid, the Blue Devils went up to Boston College and beat the Eagles by eight. Duke then ripped off three more wins before ending the season with four straight losses.

If the Blue Devils had beaten Virginia and FSU, Krzyzewski said, they would have been 20-3 and "still not that good. But we would have started to think [we were] better.''

Krzyzewski said that when the Blue Devils beat Georgetown in Durham on Dec. 2, he said to himself, "We just beat Georgetown. I'm excited because I know that's a helluva win. But Duke beating Georgetown" isn't considered a big deal.

He said Duke's slide was akin to Connecticut's drop in the Big East.

"We get it more nationally, whereas Connecticut got hit hard within the Big East," he said. "But they didn't get killed nationally. When it happens to us, it gets national attention.''

Krzyzewski said VCU deserves credit for that first-round NCAA Tournament win, but that Duke "wasn't worthy of winning.''

Josh McRoberts

McRoberts averaged 13 points (second on the team) and 7.9 boards (first on the team) and had a team-high 82 blocks. But he bolted last spring after two seasons at Duke, only to go in the second round of the NBA draft.

The question, though, is whether McRoberts ever wanted to be the focal point of a team. Krzyzewski agreed with the assessment that McRoberts probably preferred to be a No. 2 instead of a leading man. The forward didn't crack double figures in scoring in either game against North Carolina.

"He wasn't ready to be Danny Ferry," Krzyzewski said. "If he stayed, maybe he would have been better. But your point is well-taken. He wasn't comfortable scoring the ball, but he was comfortable playing. I thought for about a month he played unbelievable defense for us. And then it was 'Josh needs to do this' and you feel that pressure.''

Krzyzewski said McRoberts could have won two straight games for the Blue Devils. But he missed a driving layup in the final seconds of regulation at Virginia in what turned into a 68-66 loss in overtime. He also missed a floater off an inbounds pass with two seconds left in a 68-67 loss to Florida State.

"He's a good kid, but it got to him,'' Krzyzewski said. "I don't begrudge his decision to go, but I don't want to look back. He was a pretty damn good player.''

Gerald Henderson

If there is one player who Krzyzewski firmly believes can be a stud, it is Henderson. Henderson was slowed at the start of last season with various ailments and then was suspended for a game after his elbow to North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough.

Henderson finished with a modest 6.8 scoring average and made 45.1 percent of his shots.

"Gerald has the physical talent,'' Krzyzewski said. "Not many guys look like Gerald. If he's healthy, which he is, he can get his own shot. He can get his own shot, he can make athletic plays.''

Henderson likely will start next to DeMarcus Nelson on the perimeter with shooters Jon Scheyer and Taylor King rotating, as well. Greg Paulus and Nolan Smith will share the point.

"I expected a different season from myself,'' said Henderson, who blamed his poor conditioning on hip, ankle and respiratory problems.

Kyle Singler

This season, the Blue Devils' best lineup may be with Singler at center, and a rotation of David McClure, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek next to him on the front line, unless the Blue Devils go smaller with Singler, Henderson, Nelson, Paulus and Scheyer.

Singler will be one of the top freshmen in the country.

"Kyle is blessed with a skill set,'' Krzyzewski said. "There isn't a part of the game that Kyle doesn't do well. When you're 6-9 and you do that, you're special. He can be like [Shane] Battier.

"Quiet is a good word for him. He's a very, very efficient player. He's relentless, going for the boards.''

Singler has averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as Duke rolled to easy wins in its first two games this season.

Team USA

Coach K said he doesn't go one day without thinking about the Olympic team; he said he formed close relationships with Team USA's players.

"I don't necessarily do work on it every day, but I try to keep in touch with our guys through letters and phone calls,'' Krzyzewski said, adding that he doesn't e-mail and prefers to handwrite the letters.

"What we had this past summer hasn't happened in USA Basketball. It was beautiful. We had cooperation, pride, everything would apply to that group of guys. That hardly ever happens with anybody. Now we have to wait a year to play in the Olympics.''

Coach K's learning curve

No, Krzyzewski doesn't have all the answers. He's still learning and said he will put in wrinkles in Duke's system from his Team USA assistants. He said he'll put in some zone that he picked up from Syracuse's Jim Boeheim as well as offensive and defensive schemes from NBA coaches Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan, respectively.

"This whole thing has been good, and now hopefully we'll win,'' Krzyzewski said. "I'm excited, you can tell. I feel really, really good about my team at Duke [too].''

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.