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
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."