Sharing Coach K shouldn't faze Blue Devils
DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke practiced Wednesday without coach Mike Krzyzewski, something that almost never happens.
But it's not as if the program fell apart for a day. Everything seemed to be going along just fine for ESPN.com's preseason No. 1 pick.
Krzyzewski was in New York for the news conference announcing him as USA Basketball's men's senior national team coach for 2006-08, which will include the 2006 World Championships in Japan and then, if the U.S. qualifies, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
On Wednesday, the Duke machine rolled on without him -- and when it needs to in the springs and summers of the next three years, it should continue to churn without a hiccup, whether it's in recruiting or offseason skill development. Duke's staff and players feel that way. So, too, does archrival North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
"He's one of the few, if not the only one, that could do it and not have his program be hurt from it," Williams said earlier Wednesday from his Chapel Hill office.
Williams was an assistant on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that won the bronze medal in Athens, Greece. He said he missed 31 days from his program while with USA Basketball in the summer of 2003 in a qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico (the U.S. had to qualify after finishing sixth in the World Championships in Indianapolis in 2002). Williams said he then missed 36 days of hands-on operations while with USA Basketball last year.
"I was worried sick about it," Williams said. "I was on the phone in Athens at 4:30 a.m. with someone putting up the phone [to a TV] so I could hear Tyler Hansbrough's announcement that he was going to North Carolina. I already knew the answer, but I was still worried. I was trying to make two or three phone calls from over there and it wasn't easy."
The names "North Carolina" and "Duke" typically recruit themselves to some extent, but Williams was in a different predicament from Krzyzewski's current plight, taking over the Tar Heels from Matt Doherty when they were in a critical recruiting phase. Other than the 1994-95 season when Coach K was missing with back problems, Duke hasn't dipped in a couple of decades and continues to select its recruits, rather than having to constantly wait for a recruit to choose them.
Williams said Duke's veteran staff will aid in any potential issues of Krzyzewski being away from the team.
"He has always allowed them to be seen, heard and do postgame radio shows and TV shows and those guys -- Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and Johnny Dawkins -- make appearances on his behalf," Williams said. "It's not like he's sending three rookies out there recruiting for him."
Krzyzewski (likely along with mentor Bob Knight) is one of the two most recognized active coaches in the game. So, missing out on an AAU tournament or even a potential campus visit in September shouldn't be an issue.
"The infrastructure is there for Duke to keep rolling," Collins said Wednesday outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium's court. "Kids know what he'll be doing. If he misses a tournament here or there, kids will see he's representing the national team. People will be drawn. It's not about who sees us the most.
"Duke has become a brand name and kids equate Duke with Coach K and a great program," Collins said. "We won't miss a beat."
The upperclass players feel similarly comfortable with the arrangement.
"It won't have a big effect because when he's gone during the summer time, the assistant coaches instill what we need to do for the upcoming season," Duke senior All-American Shelden Williams said.
"In the offseason, we see coach, but he doesn't have a lot of basketball interaction with us, just like a lot of other head coaches around the country," fellow Blue Devils senior All-American J.J. Redick said. "In the spring [before the summer], our assistant coaches usually work with us as well as our strength and conditioning coaches."
Krzyzewski said during Wednesday's news conference that the only part of his extended Duke job that could take a hit is his outside speaking engagements and charity functions. He said he told his family that he would keep his family and the Duke program in place while pursuing the goal of gold in Japan and China.
Krzyzewski said he'll have plenty of time to watch tape of international teams after the Duke season while also visiting with the prospective roster, getting to know those players as well. USA Basketball CEO Jerry Colangelo said he and Krzyzewski, a committee of two, would select eight to 10 players by the end of the calendar year while the rest of the 20-25 player tryout roster should be finalized by April 2006.
Krzyzewski said training camp for the national team wouldn't be here in Durham. He said it would likely be out West with the competitions being in Asia. At least one source told ESPN.com that Las Vegas is a strong possibility as the home of training camp, which certainly would be a lure for the players.
Krzyzewski and Colangelo made it clear they're not going to be convincing anyone to play, but they are looking for a three-year commitment from the players, something Williams said shouldn't be taken for granted.
Williams said the previous Olympic staff was looking for the same thing (although a two- not three-year commitment) but Vince Carter, Jermaine O'Neal, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Trace McGrady, Elton Brand and Mike Bibby didn't return after playing in Puerto Rico. The only holdovers were Richard Jefferson, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan.
"Mike will do a fantastic job, but it's not a done deal [to get everyone to commit for three years] just because we emphasize it," Williams said. "My biggest concern is making sure the group sticks together for that whole time."
Getting players to commit to Coach K has rarely been an issue at Duke. Redick and Williams fall in line with a host of others who returned for a senior season when they could have opted for the NBA draft. What should the NBA players expect from being coached by Krzyzewski?
"He's not going to say anything he doesn't mean," Williams said.
"He's going to be great every day," Redick said. "I can't reference any other coach but 'Coach' is fully committed to his job. Whether it's us in the winter or Team USA in the summer, he'll give it his all."
Roy Williams said his greatest honor, outside of winning the national title, was standing for the national anthem with USA on his chest in Athens. And he was an assistant. Imagine the pride Krzyzewski will feel as the head coach after coveting this position "when I was the Army coach in the mid-70s and started working for coach Knight. It was a dream, a dream for thousands of coaches and to have it become a reality now is truly amazing.
"For me to have this opportunity in my coaching career is truly unique and I'm going to take advantage of this," Krzyzewski, an assistant coach for the 1992 Dream Team, said.
What's next for the Hall of Fame coach in process?
"To go back to Durham [Wednesday night], sleep in my own bed, take my dogs out and be in Durham the rest of the year coaching my team," Krzyzewski said. "This won't interrupt my team."
Not during this season, next year, or in 2008, either.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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