Coach K to guide U.S. basketball team

Updated: October 27, 2005, 1:01 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Coach K's first day on his new job wasn't just about Xs and Os. It was filled with questions about NBA players representing USA Basketball minding their Ps and Qs.

Two weeks after it was widely reported, the sport's national governing body on Wednesday made Mike Krzyzewski the first coach of the first men's senior national team.

The man who has led Duke to three national championships will be in charge of the U.S. national program for the next three years, a span that includes the World Championships in Japan in 2006 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

He is the first college coach to lead a U.S. team in a major international competition since NBA players started playing in the Olympics in 1992.

The move was initiated by Jerry Colangelo, the CEO of the Phoenix Suns Hornets who was appointed managing director of the national team in April. It followed a two-year run when the United States finished sixth in the World Championships in Indianapolis in 2002 and third at the Athens Olympics last year.

It wasn't just the lack of gold medals, it was the attitude and offcourt problems of the players that drew the negative attention.

"When it came right down to it, I had to make a choice," Colangelo said. "This was the individual, it was the guy, right time, right place. It was the guy I wanted alongside of me to go forward."

And Colangelo's presence made Krzyzewski's easy decision easier.

"For a coach this is the ultimate honor, to have the opportunity to coach your country's team," said Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate who retired from the U.S. Army as a captain. "I love this game at every level. Knowing Jerry was in charge I asked him at our first meeting why he was doing this. He said, 'I love the game and the game's been good to me and we owe the game.' I really believe that. You could never repay it enough. If you don't give back it's wrong.

"Working with Jerry, we're going to put together a team that will represent our country at its very best both on and off the floor and serve as an example for the rest of the world of the way the game should be played and how you should conduct yourself in playing this game. It's our game and it's time to reclaim the responsibility for doing that."

Although Krzyzewski's relationship with NBA players was a subject broached over and over at the news conference on Wednesday, the topic of image kept surfacing.

"We need to change the perception of how the world looks at us as a country and a basketball power and we have to reclaim what we lost," Colangelo said. "It's a lot about how they look, how they act on and off the court. The only way to change the perception is to have people doing the right thing and that's the goal."

So is winning gold medals.

Up to 25 players will be part of the national team process and Colangelo said over the three years there could be deletions and additions for various reasons. But no one will be invited without meeting Colangelo for a one-on-one interview.

"We want the people who are selected to be invited to have a lot of pride for being on the first national team," he said.

Larry Bird, the team president of the Indiana Pacers and a member of the "Dream Team" that won gold in Barcelona, gave his full support to Krzyzewski.

"The right guy at the right time after Athens and the World Championships," Bird said of Krzyzewski. "This is the type of guy we need. After 2004 we needed a wake up call and we got ours."

Krzyzewski served as an assistant to head coach Chuck Daly in 1992, and he was the head coach in the 1990 World Championships when a team of college players finished third.

"The important thing is to get the right players on the team so Mike can be successful," Daly said.

Krzyzewski's staff should be announced within three weeks and Colangelo said the plan calls for the team to assemble in late July for the World Championships that end Sept. 3. 2007, will be an off year and the time frame for the 2008 Olympics should be similar to next year's preparation.

"I thought at that time that 1992 would be my ultimate Olympic experience and it was a pretty darn good one," Krzyzewski said. "I'd like for this to be the ultimate Olympic experience."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press