Mike Krzyzewski on the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team

Duke University’s decorated basketball coach reveals his different managerial methods for Team USA, a squad made up of the NBA’s best
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

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. The Dream Team was going to win. In 2008, [when] I’d been coaching the USA team for two years, we weren’t so good that it didn’t matter. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginóbili were some of the top players in the game and didn’t have USA on their jersey. I knew we had to bond as a group.

I flew to Akron to meet with LeBron James. I’d call guys every once in a while. It helped that I was a college coach, that I was never going to compete against them. I tried to get everyone to interact more off the court while we were training to produce a little bit more of a collegiate atmosphere. 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.

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. 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. We can’t assume we’ll win again: 1992 was the Dream Team, 2008 was the Redeem Team. There’s no theme this time around. I just want them to be called the 2012 Olympics champions. — As told to Diane Brady 

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