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.