LAS VEGAS — Mike Krzyzewski thought he was done with USA Basketball. He said he was done, too.
After helping Team USA win two straight Olympic gold medals, there appeared to be little remaining for him to accomplish. After the team won in London last summer, Krzyzewski was prepared to walk away.
It didn’t take long for Jerry Colangelo to learn that Krzyzewski wasn’t as resolute in his stance as he made it seem.
A couple of weeks after their triumph in London, the two reconvened in Springfield, Mass., for the Hall of Fame inductions. And that’s when Colangelo, the managing director for USA Basketball, learned there was still a chance.
“He was having withdrawal already,” Colangelo said. “He started talking about the future. No commitments, but it was there.”
Ten months after Colangelo saw that gleam return to Krzyzewski’s eye, and two months after the Coach K made his return official, the two men are back to work at a four-day camp that began Monday.
Krzyzewski, wearing a red polo with the USA logo on the left breast, said he spent most of Duke’s past season fully convinced he wouldn’t be back for a run at a third gold.
“Throughout the year I did not think I would be coaching (Team USA),” Krzyzewski said. “I just felt that that wasn’t going to happen. But then after discussions, not just talking with Jerry but my staff and my family, to be given that opportunity again, it’s something I’m really excited about and feel very honored and privileged to have that opportunity.”
When Krzyzewski leads the Americans at the Rio Olympics in 2016, he’ll join Henry Iba as the only U.S. men to coach three Olympics. Together with Colangelo, Krzyzewski has changed the culture of USA Basketball and restored some pride, professionalism and prestige to a brand that was tarnished by a bronze medal finish in Athens in ’04.
A big sign of the change? The simple fact that they’re holding a camp this week. Because the Americans won gold in London last summer, they do not have to play in any qualifying tournaments this summer for the 2014 World Cup in Madrid.
Though there is nothing to play for this summer, this camp is the place to be.
“How Coach K does that is he just leads,” said Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke and is one of the hopefuls at the camp this week. “That’s what true leaders do.”
Twenty-eight of the best young players in the country will attend four days of workouts that mark the kickoff of 2016 preparations. Anthony Davis, who played sparingly last summer, is the only player with Olympic experience. Others, including Damian Lillard, Irving, John Wall and Paul George, have come to try to make a good impression.
“It’s a matter of getting acquainted, observing, trying to come up with some observation of does a guy fit,” Colangelo said. “Does he not fit? I’m talking about our culture. Usually people eliminate themselves. We don’t cut people.”
No roster decisions will be made this week, and Colangelo and Krzyzewski still hold out hope that some of the younger players from London — Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, among others — will decide to play in Spain next year.
“People want to be with USA Basketball. They should,” Krzyzewski said. “It enjoys now, primarily because of Jerry’s leadership, a really high status, which we need to maintain. You’re not just given that status. You have to earn it.”
Krzyzewski is one of the most respected names in coaching, and his involvement underlines the importance of USA Basketball.
“What it says about him is he could’ve sat back and said, ‘I won the two gold medals and I’ve done my thing,’ ” Colangelo said. “But he’s a competitive guy. He has set himself apart from everyone already in terms of coaching. But he’s still willing to put himself out there on the plank. And I love that.”