Commentary

Coach K wants national and world title

Originally Published: October 20, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

DURHAM, N.C. -- Mike Krzyzewski wants more gold medals and NCAA titles, but more than anything, he craves the moments.

He's at a point in his life when the spontaneity of NBA Olympians putting their gold medals around his neck in Beijing can mean as much as a national championship trophy. He relishes the time he is spending with the Olympic team, including his staff of assistants: NBA coaches Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan and longtime friend Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.

He has no issue balancing the pursuit of a World Championship gold medal in Turkey next summer, wondering when some of the top 2010 free agents, such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, will decide whether they'll play for the national team again, and maintaining the drive in his day job at Duke to land his fourth national title.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Bob Donnan/US PresswireWith a gold in Beijing, Coach K helped end an American drought at international events.

"I feel great," Krzyzewski said. "I'm in good shape, in good health, and the Olympic experience made me want to coach even longer. I learned a lot, and I continue to learn as long as I'm associated with it.

"I love Duke, and I love where I'm at," he added. "I don't have a number of years. At 62, I said: 'Who is that? It must be someone else in the room.' I can't believe I'm 62. There is such a energy at the start of the school year and the start of the basketball season that it makes you young. I've made no plans for retirement yet."

When asked after the 2004 Olympics, Krzyzewski without hesitation made the decision to coach the 2008 team. He had an offer to do the same after winning the gold in Beijing. Emotionally, he said, he was on board from the start. He just needed to make sure his family, both the one at home and the one he considers his second family (Duke), were in line.

As it turns out, they are on board, and so is he -- and not just in all-out pursuit of a gold at the 2012 London Olympics. Krzyzewski said that winning the World Championships in 2010, a tournament the Americans haven't won since 1994, is just as important. For many, it would evoke flashbacks to the back-to-back NCAA titles he won at Duke in 1991 and '92.

"We tried to show respect for the entire world community, and in the last three or four years I think we showed that," Krzyzewski said. "We can show great respect by understanding what the World Championship means to the world. We need to respect the best by playing at our best, and us winning it and showing the dignity we showed in Beijing."

Krzyzewski was an assistant on the 1992 Dream Team but wasn't in a place of power. That has changed. He is now, along with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, pursuing influence in the overall program, from the 16-and-under team all the way up to the senior national team.

"With the Dream Team in '92, no one thought beyond '92," Krzyzewski said. "We were so far ahead of everyone, but not as far ahead as maybe everyone thought, because Russia had just split and Lithuania was on its own. There was no Yugoslavia. If those two teams had been together, we still would have won but it would have been closer. It was a skewed view of the world.

"We never built on the Dream Team -- the world built on the Dream Team. The kids like Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili were watching it in Barcelona and Argentina and saying, 'I could do that,' and now they're two of the top players in the world."

If there was a concern when Krzyzewski took over the national team, it was how could he mold these pro athletes into more of a college-like team for a month. Understanding how to handle the NBA players -- ensuring they weren't burned out -- kept him on point. His massaging of that team was well received. No one seemed to be exhausted during the NBA last season after a summer with Coach K.

Krzyzewski did the thing he has done at Duke that has gone largely unnoticed all these years -- he adjusted to his personnel.

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Sure, the Blue Devils want to be a pressing and extended team defensively. Duke wants to simplify things to accentuate the stars on the roster. But the program has mixed it up recently. When the team had Jay Williams running the point, the Devils were quick to drive to the basket. When Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and Shelden Williams toiled inside, there was a concerted effort to ensure they had enough touches. When J.J. Redick was knocking down 3s, Krzyzewski ran plenty of options for him.

Gerald Henderson allowed the Blue Devils to be a driving team last season. But the makeup has changed with this group. They are long, they are big, and they lack the players who can blow by a defender. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith are two experienced, capable guards who will put up points and can defend in the halfcourt. The addition of Andre Dawkins, who graduated from high school early once Elliot Williams transferred to Memphis to be closer to his family, helps in the perimeter shooting. But the focus of this team will be on Kyle Singler as a face-up wing and a rotation of bigs that includes Lance Thomas, Mason and Miles Plumlee , Brian Zoubek and Ryan Kelly.

"We have to change what we do," Krzyzewski said. "We're not going to be a full-court pressing team. We'll be a really big team. We have six kids who are 6-9 or taller. We're fairly athletic. We don't have a true point guard, but we have length, we can rebound, and we'll adjust what we do defensively and offensively.

"We don't have people who can create shots when they have the ball, so we need to create shots off the ball so when they get the ball we have a shot. It's exciting that we're doing it in a little bit different way."

That doesn't mean Duke will be out of contention for the national title. The Blue Devils won 30 games and the ACC tournament title last season before Villanova blew them out in the Sweet 16.

"This team is capable," said Krzyzewski, who added that he would match Scheyer, Smith and Singler against any other perimeter in the country. "It can't do all things for all men. But it's capable."

Singler echoed that sentiment.

"This is the best team I've been on since I've been here," the junior said. "We don't want to just win an ACC tournament championship. We want to be undefeated in the pre-conference. We've never done that since I've been here. We lost to Michigan last year. We have the talent, we have the size, we're putting everything together."

The odds are in Duke's favor to go undefeated outside the ACC. A likely NIT matchup with Connecticut in New York over Thanksgiving weekend works in the "hometown" Blue Devils' favor. (Yes, Duke has a larger fan base in the NY/NJ metropolitan area than UConn.) A road game to rebuilding Wisconsin doesn't look overly daunting, and Gonzaga's needing to come East on Dec. 19 to New York is also an advantage for Duke. Going to Chicago and playing an improved but still second-tier Big 12 team in Iowa State should also be a win.

Kzyzewski
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainMuch of Duke's success this season will depend on Jon Scheyer (left) and Kyle Singler (right).

But there will be bumps in a balanced ACC. While Blue Devils have talent and experience, they won't strike fear into opponents away from Cameron Indoor. And even there, they've lost four straight to archrival North Carolina.

"That's got to stop this year," Scheyer said.

For that to happen -- and for the Blue Devils to get past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004 -- Singler will need to be a star. He averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds last season but will be counted on to produce even more as a matchup problem from the perimeter. He has been working exclusively with the perimeter players in practice.

"The main thing is that I have to start off strong," Singler said. "I can't do it by myself. But having a good start to the season is important."

Singler has been working on his footwork, changing speeds and ballhandling coming from the paint.

"He's a mismatch," Scheyer said. "If I were an opposing coach, I'm not sure if I'd guard him with a big guy or not. He will take us to another level. Kyle is the most talented guy and can do so many things and create for everybody else."

Scheyer doesn't see the knock on the guards, either.

"For us, we don't need to go one-on-one," Scheyer said. "Gerald had the unique ability to create his own shot and shots for other people. We can create shots for other people. We can defend. Just because we don't have the quicker guys doesn't mean we can't keep people in front of us. We have the big guys to protect our basket."

Scheyer's confidence is instilled from this staff, which gets it from Krzyzewski. The consensus at Duke is that even though North Carolina has won two national titles since 2005, the Blue Devils could be on the verge of their own run if recruiting goes as well as the staff believes it can in the coming months.

That confident but relaxed drive toward another title was evident last weekend when Duke held a Midnight Madness event. The Blue Devils want to keep up with everyone else in all areas, and having a bit of fun in October is what recruits want to see, too.

Finding new ways to relate to his Duke team, and pursuing national gold, is keeping Krzyzewski driven to stay put. He has no desire, though, to coach deep into his 70s or 80s like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno in college football.

"I think you can coach college football longer because you have offensive and defensive coordinators and line coaches," Krzyzewski said. "I admire what Bobby and Joe have done. It's remarkable, remarkable accomplishments. But in our profession, you're the head coach and you have to be on the floor [or] on the road recruiting all the time.

"I don't see me whacking [UConn coach Jim] Calhoun with a cane when he's 80 and I'm 75 fighting for a Final Four berth. But as long as we can do it, let's try to do it."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com