Cocky 2004 team lost, and it’s all busi­ness since

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JIM LITKE

Nearly ev­ery time coach Mike Krzyzewski and U.S.A. Bas­ket­ball boss Jerry Colan­gelo stage a re­union in their home­town, there’s plenty of back­slap­ping, a tro­phy gleam­ing in the back­ground and the only thing they have to pro­tect is their cock­tails. This time around, it’s about safe­guard­ing the Olympic legacy the two built over more than a decade.

Their part­ner­ship took hold in the wake of the “Abom­i­na­tion in Athens,” when a U.S. team coached by Larry Brown and packed with high-main­te­nance, high­light-reel guys who slept through wake-up calls couldn’t rouse them­selves in time for the medal round. They left the 2004 Sum­mer Games with a con­so­la­tion prize of bronze and the pro­gram’s rep­u­ta­tion in tat­ters.

Colan­gelo, a former NBA and MLB ex­ec­u­tive and once a fine ath­lete in his own right, agreed to pick up the pieces on one con­di­tion: “I get to make all the rules.”

In­stead of sub­mit­ting the names of the play­ers he wanted to a se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, Colan­gelo picked his own. In­stead of con­tact­ing their agents to set up meet­ings, he called some di­rectly and col­lared oth­ers as they clam­bered off the team bus at NBA are­nas across the coun­try. No one told him no.

Once he shaped a ros­ter that re­flected his phi­los­o­phy — that the best teams are made up of com­ple­men­tary parts in­stead of just the best ones avail­able — there was only one guy Colan­gelo wanted to coach them.

“We’re both Chicago guys through and through,” Colan­gelo said Thurs­day, while the Team U.S.A. prac­tised for Fri­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion here against Venezuela.

“A lot of the bond we felt right off the bat had to do with the lunch-bucket begin­nings both of us had.”

Gold medals at Beijing and Lon­don fol­lowed in their wake, and the mix of play­ers buzzing around Krzyzewski at prac­tice — bona fide NBA stars like Kevin Du­rant and oth­ers like Kyle Lowry and Dean­dre Jor­dan, who bring spe­cific skill-sets to the floor — sug­gest their ap­proach hasn’t changed. The only sur­prise about this edi­tion is that Colan­gelo found yet an­other way to get Coach K to sign on for an­other tour of duty.

“There’s usu­ally lots were in­volved, but it hasn’t re­ally been that tough,” Colan­gelo laughed.

In 2009, both were on hand for a National As­so­ci­a­tion of Bas­ket­ball Coaches “Court of Honor” gala fet­ing Colan­gelo and Team USA’s suc­cess at the Olympics a year ear­lier. Colan­gelo worked the room in his fa­mil­iar style, shift­ing his drink of­ten to avoid spilling it as he ac­cepted hand­shakes, hugs and posed for pic­tures with old friends. Kryzyewski, who served as toast­mas­ter, still hadn’t made up his mind about Lon­don.

“We got that taken care of 3 a.m. that morn­ing in the lobby over pizza and wine.

“I re­mem­ber af­ter Lon­don, Mike was re­ally wiped out. I thought I’d lay low and didn’t bother him for two weeks, then he called me. ‘Jerry,’ he says, ‘I’m al­ready go­ing through with­drawal.’”

“Yeah, we’re both Chicago guys, but I’m Pol­ish and he’s Ital­ian,” Krzyzewski said.

“He’s al­ways re­mind­ing that they have bet­ter restau­rants and more of them.”


Bas­ket­ball U.S.A. man­ager Jerry Colan­gelo, left, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and as­sis­tant coach Joe Boe­heim. The U.S. Olympic team is look­ing for gold in Rio.

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