Duke Report

Mike Krzyzewski Decision to Coach USA Basketball Through 2016 Olympics is Best for Duke Basketball

Mike Krzyzewski, USA Basketball

Photo via USATODAY

Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers explores what he calls the 10,000 rule. The basic idea behind the concept is that it takes 10,000 hours before you can be an expert at anything. Mike Krzyzewski passed that threshold years and years ago at the college level, but his decision to remain the coach of the United States Basketball team through the 2016 Olympics gives him more opportunity to work with the highest-quality athletes in the sport and closer to a new, more important 10,000-hour mark.

An argument could be made that Krzyzewski’s decision could lead to burnout and, in turn, a drop in the quality of the product of his teams at Duke. But I submit that in staying with USA Basketball he is learning more about the modern NBA athlete and adjusting his style of both coaching and developing players to fit that NBA mold.

Every top-20 player that comes out of high school has one goal in mind: get to the NBA. For decades Krzyzewski has been helping players achieve that goal but few players have become stars once they have gotten there. That difference has led to players flocking to NBA factories like Kentucky instead of the history and prestige of places like Duke. By exposing himself to NBA players during the summers and at big tournaments like the World Championships and Olympics, Krzyzewski gets himself closer to reaching the 10,000 hours of time that would make him an expert with NBA players.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “but his job is to coach Duke! Who cares about how he works with NBA players?” Well, dissenting reader, players like Jabari Parker, Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor care. The guys at the very top of the recruiting rankings every year only want to make themselves a more complete player by the next season’s NBA Draft and guys like John Calipari have developed a reputation for getting guys to that point before sending them of their way while Krzyzewski’s track record has slightly less shimmer.

However, since taking over USA Basketball’s top team in 2006 Krzyzewski has been able to net top-10 prospects Parker (2013), Austin Rivers (2011), Kyrie Irving (2010), Mason Plumlee (2009), Kyle Singler (2007) and Nolan Smith (2007). These players, most notably one-and-done stars like Rivers and Irving, see Krzyzewski’s ability to work with players who already are where they want to be as a swing vote in what could otherwise have been a Duke-less process.

Looking at the current climate of USA Basketball, the recent U19 training camp roster has Krzyzewski’s finger prints all over it. Sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon is the only current player, but Duke targets Okafor and Justise Winslow are also in camp. Krzyzewski is not involved with that team, but as players who all want to play for the top team down the road, playing for his other team in North Carolina could seem a natural progression.

LeBron James came out last summer and called Krzyzewski one of his mentors and the impact of something like that on the recruiting trail is already felt by the caliber of players considering the Blue Devils. Staying with the team through 2016 gives Krzyzewski more time to build relationships with these players and get himself closer to that 10,000-hour mark.

  • SemperFi

    Excellent, enjoyable article Jimmy. I agree that this is a good decision for Coach K and Duke Basketball. Coach K I believe is very patriotic and it probably disturbed him that the USA was coming up short of anything but Gold. He saw a problem that he could fix. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Now I’m not saying the rest of the world is evil, but they are the opposition. I have the mentality that the USA should be the only world power in basketball and ambassadors of the sport for the rest of the world to emulate in play and humility. This may seem contradictory, but it’s never wrong to give your best and be the best so long as due credit is given. I love the photo of all the players metals hung around Coach K’s neck. Ultimately, God should receive the honor and glory and not men (1 Corinthians 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?) Some very good questions with obvious answers. God has greatly blessed America.

    Besides learning to be a better coach and his patriotism, perhaps another reason to coach the USA team is a desire to coach players he longs to coach. I may be mistaken, but I’ve heard that Lebron & Kobe could have been Blue Devils if the one & done rule was in effect when they graduated from high school. Also what could have been if Kyrie did not get injured? There is a decent probability that all three of them will make the team and coach can teach, learn from them, and develop a tighter bond. There is mutual respect between him and the players. When working with the best how can you not take away knowledge to better equip your college players for a professional career in basketball and beyond.

    Now I believe there is an over emphasis on physical and skills development in the minds of blue chip players analyzing a program or coach. Some coaches can be guilty of this too. Too often the life skills and wisdom a coach imparts is secondary. Now coach K by no means has a lock on these attributes, but who can argue that he has a seemingly inexhaustible supply to share with his team and players individually. A recent case in point is the fact that Lebron considers Coach K one of his mentors. Something tells me this goes beyond the game of basketball.

    How do you pick an agent or spouse, how do you manage your income, your training, nutrition, time, endorsements; how do you handle temptations, who can you trust, etc? It would be an interesting study if professional player’s net worth was public info. Someone who makes minimum wage in the NBA or an overseas salary can multiple that with the knowledge of compound interest, investments, and endorsements. How do you sell yourself? How about not possessing marijuana Carolina fans? What about the blessings of giving back? Coach K lives this. Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. He who has the most toys does not win. Along those lines, he who has the most points, rebounds, … The recent article about Shelden Williams is a good example. A family man like him warms my heart more than NBA super star status.

    I am jealous of the Duke players past and present not for their abilities, but for the access and relationship they have with Coach K. A relationship that goes beyond college and basketball. And I have a good dad. How much more does this mean for those that are less fortunate.

    No offense to Coach Cal or Kentucky, but I don’t view them as an NBA factory as much as I do a conveyer belt. I also think this could be a reflection of some superficial viewing of recruits towards a coach or program. Players seems to want to position themselves for a national championship or less intense academics perhaps at the expense of more important factors. Granted not all are cut out for rigors of some college academics and that’s OK. Duke is not a one size fits all. But a good indicator of a player’s integrity is their accomplishments in the classroom. As Coach K has implied that Duke enables him to select from the best.

    And just think, what if Coach Dean Smith didn’t recommend Coach K for the USA job and put the meeting room in complete silence. God bless Coach Smith.

    My apologies for my scattered thoughts and the speculation since I’m an outsider, with no first hand information.