DURHAM Four years ago, Mike Krzyzewski challenged the past. This time around, he’s trying to keep the U.S. Olympic basketball team focused on the present.
The challenge has changed for the Duke coach, in what is almost certainly his final go-round as national-team coach. At a time when there are few basketball worlds left for him to conquer, it becomes ever the more important to conclude his international career on the right note.
When Krzyzewski took over for USA Basketball, the United States was coming off a tripleheader of failure at two world championships and the 2004 Olympics. Having won gold in 2008 and the World Championship in 2010, the pressure would appear to be off the United States. But that’s exactly the attitude that got American basketball into so much trouble in the post-Dream Team era.
“The pressure remains the same,” Krzyzewski said earlier this summer. “There’s always a lot of pressure to do it the right way and to win. It’s a lot different, you know, we had lost the competitions, the three competitions before the last Olympics. … Now we’ve won the Olympics and the World Championship. The very first thing we need to do is not beat (ourselves), by assuming. By assuming.”
If staying hungry is half the battle, staying fresh is the other half.
The so-called “Redeem Team” in Beijing in 2008 tackled doubt and past failures; this year’s version of the Olympic team will battle complacency and fatigue. The compressed NBA season, thanks to the lockout, means those players have played far more games over the past six months than they would normally.
Meanwhile, the London Olympics begin earlier than usual, which means by the time the games begin, Team USA will have played five warm-up games over a 12-day span in three different countries.
“This Olympics is so different than ’08, and it’s different than the (2010) World Championships, because you have a condensed regular season ... and an early Olympics,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s not the buffer between the two. And so we actually have guys in the regular season, most of the NBA players, they played a game every 1.6 or 1.7 days. So you’re going to have a mentally different team and a physically different team.”
The circumstances may be different, but the pressure remains the same. With four NCAA titles, the all-time wins record and Olympic gold in 2008, Krzyzewski’s legacy isn’t exactly lacking for polish, but if this is indeed his final tournament with the United States, nothing less than gold will suffice.