Commentary

Coach K juggling Duke shake-up, Olympic team as he goes for gold

Originally Published: May 19, 2008
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Last week's ACC meetings in Florida had to get cut from Mike Krzyzewski's schedule.

Something had to give during an offseason that will end up being the busiest, most pressure-packed and easily most disruptive for Krzyzewski in years.

Within the past month, Krzyzewski said goodbye to his former player, longtime trusted top assistant Johnny Dawkins, who took the Stanford job. And then Krzyzewski had to reshuffle a coaching staff that will have three new faces in three new positions.

Krzyzewski saw one top reserve (Taylor King) transfer (to Villanova), but he picked up a steal of a late-spring recruit in 6-foot-10 Miles Plumlee, a one-time Stanford signee who got out of his commitment after Trent Johnson went to LSU.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisMike Krzyzewski has to juggle a coaching staff in new positions as well as the big expectations of the Olympic team this summer.

That's just at Duke. That doesn't even account for the Olympic team, an overriding but welcomed burden that hovers over him.

Instead of the ACC meetings, Krzyzewski spent a few days in Phoenix meeting with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and the Olympic team's coaching staff. He has had to pick and choose his spots on when to call the players on the Olympic roster during the NBA playoffs. He is preparing for a minicamp next month. And he's focusing his thought process on the one and only goal for the end of this three-year commitment -- a gold medal in Beijing.

"With all the stuff going on, with my staff, I had a few balls to juggle," Krzyzewski said. "It's all in place now. I don't have much time. It all has got to be done right because it can't linger. I don't have much time."

And that little time will be spent primarily with USA Basketball this summer. Right now, USA Basketball lists 33 names on its men's national team roster. Colangelo and Krzyzewski have to narrow that down to the final 12 who will lead the United States.

"It'll be some tough choices; there are more deserving players for us than just 12," Krzyzewski said. "We've had so many great responses for players who want to be a part of it for the right reasons."

Dwyane Wade's status is uncertain because he was injured for a significant time this past season. (He played in only 51 games.) Wade played for the national team two years ago in the world championship, in which the team won a bronze, but not last summer in the Tournament of the Americas, which the U.S. team won.

Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers), LeBron James (Cleveland) and Dwight Howard (Orlando) are all must-have players, Krzyzewski said. The rest of the team will be decided on those who best complement the key players.

"We've got to balance out who they are now and who they were then, because there are guys who have gotten better," Krzyzewski said. The only players who have played in both 2006 and 2007 are James, Howard and Carmelo Anthony (Denver). The emergence of point guards Chris Paul (New Orleans) and Deron Williams (Utah), both on the 2007 team but not the 2006 team, would seem to make them favorites to be on the final 12 this summer.

Krzyzewski said that the plan is to have the team decided by the time it arrives at the Las Vegas training camp on June 30.

I want to make sure we finish this process off right and win the gold medal.

--Mike Krzyzewski

The Americans will start practicing in Las Vegas on July 20. They will play five exhibition games overseas before they start playing in Beijing on Aug. 10.

Lost amid Krzyzewski's Olympic plans was the disruption to his Duke staff.

Krzyzewski said he wasn't surprised that Dawkins took the Stanford job. Krzyzewski, who insisted he's not ready to retire, said the two had talked about Dawkins becoming a head coach the past few years.

After Dawkins left and took Mike Schrage (the director of basketball operations), the first thing Krzyzewski did was bump Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski up to co-associate head coaches. Then he hired Nate James, a former player, to fill Dawkins' spot. Krzyzewski promoted Chris Spatola, a former Army player and his son-in-law, as director of basketball operations. Former Duke player Chris Carrawell moved into Spatola's previous spot as graduate assistant/head team manager so Krzyzewski could "teach him how to be a coach."

Collins and Wojciechowski are part of the extended USA Basketball coaching staff. So bumping up James to an assistant coach will leave at least one of the Duke assistants back in Durham during the summer to oversee the program.

Once the Olympics start, Krzyzewski's family will go to China, leaving James and Carrawell behind to monitor the current players.

A year ago, that could have been a problem. The Blue Devils were a bit bruised mentally, coming off a first-round loss in the 2007 NCAA tournament to VCU. They were still a relatively untested and young team. But now, even though Duke lost in the second round of the NCAAs to West Virginia, its surprising 13-3 finish in the ACC and 28-6 overall record has Krzyzewski beaming about next season's team.

Sure, DeMarcus Nelson is gone. But the return of inside-out scorer Kyle Singler, potential breakout player Gerald Henderson and guards Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus give Krzyzewski experienced leaders. That quartet, along with guard Nolan Smith, and forwards Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and David McClure, and the expected contributions from Plumlee, shooting guard Elliot Williams and forward Olek Czyz in the freshman class, have Krzyzewski pumped about next season.

"I feel really good about the program, and me and Duke," he said. "I'm very excited. We finally have experience coming back. We'll have a deep team. We had a chance to be very good, and our kids were very good this year."

Krzyzewski said going from one of the youngest teams he has coached to one of the more experienced will help. Zoubek (foot), Henderson (wrist) and Thomas (finger) all are coming off surgeries. But Krzyzewski expects them to be ready for the fall.

And by then, if all goes according to plan, Coach K will have finished a demanding summer with the most coveted prize -- a gold medal.

"I want to make sure we finish this process off right and win the gold medal," Krzyzewski said.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com