8/11/2012 9:56:00 PM US-Spain men meet again for Olympic hoop gold
Charles Krupa/The Associated Press Mike Krzyzewski and Team USA go for the gold on Sunday, in what Coach K says is his last Olympic game.
Krzyzewski set for final game as US coach
LONDON (AP) - Mike Krzyzewski's job is nearly finished.
Seven years after taking over a U.S. team that had been stripped of its power and grip on Olympic basketball, Krzyzewski is down to one more game.
But before his players take the court Sunday against Spain, he'll do what he always does. He will remind them to talk on defense. Share the ball. Play with pride. Represent their families and country with honor.
When it ends, before he takes his own final bow, he'll also remind them to accept their medals with humility.
The game against Spain is a rematch of the gold-medal game four years ago in China won by the Americans.
Win, and Krzyzewski walks away with an unmatched legacy.
He had left open the possibility that he'd stay on beyond the London Games, but Krzyzewski told the Associated Press before practice on Saturday that he's stepping down.
Three times, Krzyzewski answered "yeah" when asked if he was finished.
Still, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who hired Krzyzewski in 2005, isn't going to let him leave without a fight. He plans to take another shot at persuading Krzyzewski to stay.
"He's said this is it and I'll respect his choice," Colangelo said. "But knowing me as I know me, I'll have that conversation and we'll see."
If this is indeed his last game, the 65-year-old Krzyzewski will leave having met every expectation.
With a win, Krzyzewski will join Henry Iba (1964 and 1968) as the only U.S. coaches to lead teams to consecutive Olympic gold medals. However, Iba, for all his successes, didn't have to worry about convincing NBA superstars to buy into his program, juggle the demands of coaching one of the nation's top college teams or compete with an international basketball community filled with talented players.
Krzyzewski's selection as national coach in 2005 was viewed as risky by some. There were doubts if the Duke coach would be able to get the top pros - players accustomed to always getting their way - to accept a team-first concept. And, with a limited time to get them ready, could he get them to learn the more fluid international game.
With one gold medal - maybe a second - and a world championship on his resume since 2010, Krzyzewski has succeeded on every level.
"He's been able to build kind of a blueprint, a model, for future coaches in terms of how they deal with players," said Kobe Bryant, one of five holdovers from the 2008 gold medal winner. "In terms of scheduling, in terms of commitment, he's kind of established the mold for the next coach.
"His ability to communicate with players individually has been fantastic. His ability to constantly keep things fresh and motivate, that's something that we've appreciated."
If Colangelo's the architect of the U.S. program's reconstruction, Krzyzewski's the general contractor.
He's built it back to where it was in 2000, when the U.S. won its third straight gold at the Sydney Games. Then came 2004, when the Americans, coached by Larry Browns, lost three games in Greece and settled for bronze, finishing behind Italy and Argentina. The result was shocking.
"We were garbage," Carmelo Anthony said recently.
Not long after, Colangelo, the former owner Phoenix Suns who had been named head of USA Basketball, immediately began his search for a coach to bring America back. With a few personal favorites in mind, he put together a committee, which presented him with a list 30 NBA and college coaches.
As the group surveyed the names on a board in Chicago, North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who guided the U.S. Olympic team to gold in 1976, spoke up.
"We talked about each one of them, and Dean Smith says there's only one college coach up there who could do it, and it's Coach K," Colangelo recalled. "That was his biggest rival. Think of that. That was one of those moments."
There have been others since.
Colangelo, who deserves credit for getting Bryant, Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul - the core of the American team - to commit for more than one Olympics, is effusive in his praise of Krzyzewski.
"He was the right guy at the right time," Colangelo said. "He's been so important to me in everything we've done in building the infrastructure and philosophy and standards - all of it. His legacy goes beyond the record on the court. We're 52-1 since this all began, and hopefully we'll be 53-1 after tomorrow. That's a legacy in itself.
"I really love him and respect him."
The feeling is mutual. Krzyzewski believes Colangelo deserves his own gold medal.
"He's the biggest difference for USA basketball," Krzyzewski said. "I don't know when the time comes and he has to give it up how he'll be replaced. You can replace a coach and you can replace players. But what he's done, I think he is the most irreplaceable part of this."
The two men have re-established the U.S. gold standard together, and Colangelo isn't the only one who can't imagine where U.S. basketball might be if not for Krzyzewski's imprint.
Coaches don't receive Olympic medals, but when the Americans beat Spain four years ago in China, all 12 U.S. players draped their awards around Krzyzewski's neck. It was their way of expressing gratitude to a coach who had pulled them together and pushed the U.S. back to the top.
Krzyzewski plans to stay with USA basketball after he's done coaching. To him, it would be a mistake not to utilize what he's learned during this seven-year run.
"I'll be involved," he said. "One thing we screw up in college is when a John Thompson retires or Bob Knight or Dean Smith, we don't use their institutional memory in any way unless they get on TV or whatever, and it's really a violation ... of something. It's really stupid that institutional memory is not used, and we'll try to do that with USA basketball.
"If you were in music, you would have wanted somebody who had played that instrument for 40 or 50 years and played it well. That's what we're trying to do."
Krzyzewski has done his part.
He's got one more game, his last note.
By Brian Mahoney The Associated Press
GAME TIME: Sunday, 7 a.m., NBC
LONDON - The Americans left as champions four years ago and returned thinking they were even better.
This U.S. men's Olympic basketball team was an improved model over the 2008 version, players insisted, so versatile, so athletic that not only would they beat those gold medalists, but they could even take a game from the Dream Team.
The stats back them up, and a place in history is awaiting this group of Americans - on one condition.
"I thought we had the potential to be really good, better than the '08 team, but the '08 team brought home gold, so we've got some unfinished business still left," LeBron James said Saturday.
And it comes today against Spain, the team the Americans beat in an Olympic classic at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The U.S. completed its climb back to the top of international basketball with a 118-107 victory, pulling away after Spain was within four points in the final 2 1/2 minutes. The game was 40 end-to-end minutes of all offense, all the time, and the Americans have the ability to be even more potent now.
They are averaging 116.7 points - just slightly off the Dream Team's record of 117.3 per game - and set the Olympic record with 156 in an 83-point victory over Nigeria. They are averaging 10 points more than the '08 squad and winning by eight more points per game, and with James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, the U.S. has enough hot hands to fill an octopus.
"We obviously have a lot of talent. Our team here is pretty ridiculous," Bryant said.
The rematch between the world's No. 1 and No. 2 teams was widely expected coming into the games, but Spain hasn't always looked up to the challenge in London.
The Spaniards lost twice in the preliminary round, then fell into an 11-point halftime deficit against Russia in the semifinals after managing just 20 points - which is about seven minutes worth of work for the Americans.
Spain rallied for a 67-59 victory, saying afterward how rewarding it was just to get the gold-medal game while facing a number of injuries. And as they hugged members of the Spanish royal family, then talked about the difficult circumstances they've overcome, they had the appearance of a team whose work was done, more ready for a vacation than another game within 48 hours.
"I'm not buying that," James said. "It's the same story you hear from Boston every year. They're hurt, they're old, not going to be able to compete, and then next thing you know finals come around, Eastern Conference finals, and they're right there. So I'm not buying that."
Nor is Durant.
"They're probably fooling you guys," he said. "They're a really, really good team. They play hard, they're a tough team, competitive, so it's not going to be a walk in the park for us."
Spain brings size the U.S. can't match, with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, who has played professionally in the Spanish leagues and became a Spanish national last year. The Americans will be forced to have James or Anthony defend Marc Gasol, who was an NBA All-Star this year and is much more of an threat then he was in Beijing.
"If I have to defend him, I have to keep him off the glass, rebound," James. "There's also two sides of the court. If I'm guarding him, he's got to guard me," James said.
Good luck with that, Marc.
James can cap off one of basketball's greatest individual seasons with a second gold medal and join Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA title and Olympic title in the same year.
Jordan did it in 1992, when the Dream Team toyed with opponents who weren't ready to play basketball at the highest level yet. Things have changed now, yet the victory margins really haven't, the U.S. still clobbering teams who are much better than the caliber of competition guys like Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced.
The Americans returned to Barcelona last month and routed the Spaniards 100-78 in an exhibition game in which Spain rested Marc Gasol and backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez. Pau Gasol said the Spanish understand the U.S. is a powerful team and that the game will be difficult, but that it won't prevent his team from fighting.
"It's a huge opportunity," Gasol said. "Very few people get a chance to compete in a final, an Olympic final, in their carers, in their lives, and we are so fortunate that we have our second chance."
Rudy Fernandez, Spain's leading scorer in the 2008 final with 22 points, and fellow star Juan Carlos Navarro have battled nagging injuries this year. The Spanish had already lost dazzling NBA rookie Ricky Rubio, who started for them four years ago and is a much better player now.
But James said Spain is a better team than it was four years ago, and both he and Anthony dismissed the notion that if the Americans are better than they were in 2008, they should win this game more easily now.
"We want to win. It don't matter. We still believe that if we win by one or two points, we're still going to believe that this team is better than '08," Anthony said.
It's expected to be the last international game for Bryant and U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski. And it could be the final appearance in red, white and blue for James and Anthony, rookies in 2004 when the U.S. hit its Olympic low point and now poised to go out on top.
"It's out the roof," Anthony said, describing his excitement level. "It's my second gold-medal game to be a part of, with this team, with this group of guys. And just to know the excitement level that everybody has for this game, it's going to be exciting."