NO MATTER how it gets spun, the selection of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to be the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball coach is a slap at the NBA. Three respected pro coaches, all of whom would've taken the job, finished behind Coach K, who has spent his entire gilded bench career in college. The committee passed on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Heat president Pat Riley and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. Each has outstanding credentials, and each likely could have delivered a commitment from his team's superstar: Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Amaré Stoudemire, respectively.
True, Krzyzewski, 58, who has won three NCAA championships, is not just any college coach. Moreover, he has paid his political dues. (He's coached several USA Basketball--sanctioned squads.) But Krzyzewski, who has spurned overtures from several pro teams, is not an NBA guy, and giving him the keys might signal that USA Basketball is moving away from the league. The current plan is to have an elastic roster of as many as 25 players by spring. But long-term commitments from pros are hard to come by. While sources close to USA Basketball insist that a coach's ability to secure a particular NBA player was not considered, Krzyzewski was seen by some as a carrot to lure Kobe Bryant, who helped try to snag the Duke coach for L.A. in 2004. Bryant is reportedly eager to sign on--"Kobe sees the Olympics as a way to refurbish his image," says a source--but he may need the team more than it needs him. Bryant will be 30 in 2008, and who knows if he'll be considered too much of an NBA player to fit the '08 style?
It's certain that Krzyzewski and the USA Basketball talent hounds will be looking for jump shooters rather than penetrators, players used to moving the ball against a zone. And they'll be looking for young players eager to bleed for Old Glory, rather than comfy vets. Which is fine up to a point: In Athens the U.S. struggled to make shots against zones. But loading up on fuzzy-cheeked anything-for-Coach-K types is also a recipe for disaster in a mature hoops world that has caught up to the U.S. We'll need big names, such as Duncan, Stoudemire, LeBron James. Will those pros say O.K. to K, who, for all his accomplishments, has preached only to choirs of collegians?