As we inch closer to the London Olympics, more and more focus is being put on the big stories of the Games— the big stars, the big controversies, the big breakthroughs. Somewhere in that mix of “Big” are the tallest Olympians themselves, the members of the US Olympic men’s basketball team. Missing injured big guns like Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, Team USA is looking to recapture the magic that has faded around the American NBA stars in the Olympics since the beginnings of the Dream teams of 1992 and 1996.
This year’s team, having just wrapped up its training camp and exhibitions in Las Vegas, now heads to Washington for a series of practices and games before moving abroad. The team is certainly not short on talent with mega-stars like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but the global game of basketball will again test the Americans, who are by no means the overall favorite to win gold in London.
Leading Team USA this year will be a committed “Dream Team” of coaches, led by Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Coach K” took time out from their prep for the Olympics to speak to Bloomberg Businessweek this week on lessons learned during the Olympic experience and what he has been able to apply to his tenure with the Blue Devils. Some highlights from the piece:
I was an assistant to [“Dream Team” coach] Chuck Daly in 1992. At the first coaches’ meeting, Chuck looked at us and said, “You have to do one thing really well: Ignore. You’re not going to micromanage. These guys know their pace. Don’t mess it up." He was right. This was the best of the NBA. I learned not to overcoach. In college, you have to talk more, but these guys got it right away.
He also elaborated on the difference between working with NBA players and those he has in college.
In college, you have youngsters who need to adapt to me and our program and our culture. I’m their guide. When you have players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, you can’t come in with a rigid plan. It’s not just Coach K. They’re men. They take instruction real easy, and they don’t want to waste time. I had to give them a chance to have ownership by using things that they’ve found to be good, whether it’s defending the pick and roll, how long we practice, or a certain shooting drill… One of the biggest challenges is creating urgency. When you get to the medal round, you get one game. It’s like the NCAA tournament—one and done. NBA players are used to a seven-game series. You have to make them feel it’s the seventh game of a seven-game series. You risk making them nervous, but it’s important.
And what will the legendary coach take away from the trip to London?
“This has made me better as a college coach. How we call our defenses is different because of what I’ve learned from the pro players,” he added. “Chris Paul said something in a team meeting that I’d been explaining for 30 years, and he said it better. If you don’t learn anything from the outstanding players in your game, then something’s wrong.”