LAS VEGAS — This is Mike Krzyzewski’s last go around as the coach of USA Basketball.
Paul George talked about how important it was for him to be here for that — Coach K was by his bedside in Las Vegas two years ago when George suffered a devastating leg injury, then stayed in regular contact with him for the past two years over recovery and return. Kyrie Irving talked about how important it was for him to be part of this — as a former Duke star who never got to win a title in college with Coach K, he had to be there with him now.
More than just a victory lap for Coach K, this is a summer of transition for USA Basketball.
Gregg Popovich, the next Team USA coach, is at these practices — and much more than that.
“It’s not just him being here (at practice), he’s at every meeting. At night we go out to eat and talk,” Krzyzewski said. “First of all, his input on NBA players for me is incredible. And for asking him what is he thinking about what we’re doing, he sees what we’re doing.
“It’s called succession. The fact we’re both military guys, we understand that I have the unit right now, he’s going to take command over the unit, and we both want the unit to do well. So, we understand that. We’ve been good friends, but this has been great for me, and I think for him too, just for us to bond even more.”
Popovich is honored just to be in the building.
“Being a former military guy, if you can represent your country in any way, that’s always pretty important,” Popovich said. “This is one of the best ways to show that. Our country is a little bit divided in various ways, as we all know. And this is a shining example of teamwork and togetherness and people all focused on one goal. And playing together and just being empathetic for each other, understanding each other, loving each other.”
This transition is going to be smooth, in part because both Krzyzewski and Popovich are both consummate professionals, and also in part because they are great basketball minds.
Also, they both possess the two things beyond basketball acumen that are needed to succeed as Team USA coach. One, guys have to want to play for you. Second, you need the stature to push aside the petty noise and pressure from agents/shoe companies/sponsors to do what is best for the team.
Popovich is going to be great for USA basketball.
After Krzyzewski wins one more gold.