While it's not surprising that legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski is stepping down from team USA basketball after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, there’s still some feelings of shock or surprise. All great things can't last forever, even if the marriage between Coach K and team USA is the perfect match.
Krzyzewski coached the USA men’s national team to gold medals in 2008 in Beijing and in 2012 in London. Coach K also led the United States to the 2010 World Championship and the 2014 World Cup, even after a devastating injury to Indiana Pacers star Paul George, and the withdrawal from NBA superstar Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, who was amid a contract situation with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time. Whatever the situation or adversity has been surrounding the program, Coach K has continued to succeed. Krzyzewski holds a 75-1 record since taking over as head coach in 2005, after being hired by USA basketball chairman, Jerry Colangelo.
Krzyzewski helped lead the revival of USA basketball after disappointing finishes in the 2002 FIBA World Championship, in which they failed to medal, and in the 2004 Olympics in Greece, where team USA lost three games before winning the Bronze medal. The three losses were a record that represented more losses in a single year than the country's Olympic teams had suffered in all previous Olympics combined. That opened up the eyes of the basketball world, as the team USA powerhouse of the past was failing on the big stage.
Behind Colangelo and Krzyzewski, the U.S. began a long-term project geared towards building more cohesion, commitment and winning. USA basketball was in need of a culture change, and that’s exactly what happened.
Team USA won its first seven games in the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan before losing to Greece, which remains as the only loss under Coach K’s tenure, as the U.S. ended the competition with a bronze medal. That led the team into the 2008 Olympics. The U.S. entered the competition under the nickname of “The Redeem Team,” on their way to routing opponents before capturing the gold medal, taking their place back on top of the basketball world.
The Olympic dominance in 2008 was a springboard for team USA into the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Although the roster featured no one from the 2008 gold medal team, the U.S. defeated the host country, Turkey, for the gold medal. The dominance continued into the 2012 Olympics in London and in the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Spain. Team USA hasn’t looked back at all in 10 years under the leadership of Coach K, and don’t expect that to change when he leaves after the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Krzyzewski mentioned he wouldn’t mind continuing on with USA basketball in another capacity, and also wouldn’t comment on any other candidates who could be ready to take over the head coaching duties.
As we begin to think about potential replacements, we can’t look any further than three names. Those coaches include current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, new Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, who has experience with the U19 World Championship team, and current University of Kentucky head coach and potential future NBA coach, John Calipari.
Whoever the next coach of USA basketball is, we can expect to see the continued standards of excellence and success. Coach K did his job in changing the culture of USA basketball and getting them back to the top, and the next coach, whoever that may be, will begin his own chapter and legacy within USA basketball.