Updated: July 20, 2006, 12:34 PM ET
How Coach K's initial message misses mark
By Chris Sheridan
LAS VEGAS -- It didn't take long for Mike Krzyzewski to screw up royally in his new job as coach of Team USA. He did it before day one was even in the books.
Rather than tell the team its job is to win the World Championship on the night of Sept. 3, Coach K gave the players exactly the kind of misguided advice they didn't need to hear.
"We have to go out there and be dominant for 56 quarters -- every quarter of every game we play. That's our mission," Gilbert Arenas told me following Team USA's first practice Wednesday.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
Coach K is running the show now. But is his message the right one?
"Who on earth told you that?" I asked.
"Coach Mike," Arenas replied.
Well, Coach Mike or Coach K, or whatever you want to call him, is dead wrong, and Insider is not afraid to say so. This isn't 1992 anymore. This isn't about playing like the original Dream Team, for which Coach K was an assistant under Chuck Daly. And this should not be about restoring American dominance following three losses at the 2002 World Championship and three more losses at the 2004 Olympics.
This should be about having the U.S. team playing at its peak when the games really count, and that won't happen until the single-elimination stage of the World Championship arrives at the end of August with the Round of 16, then the quarterfinals, the semifinals and the gold-medal game -- the only four games that will really matter. Sure, it'd be nice to beat Senegal by 107 in the opening round, but nobody back home will care all that much about that if, when the games really mean something, France or Spain is one or two points better.
You know what would have been a better message, Coach K? How about this: "I don't care if you lose, and I don't want you losing your confidence if you do lose. I want you playing at your peak seven weeks from now. I want us at our best when this mission finally gets serious."
You can't be dominant if you're not even superior, and right now there's a team in Argentina that has first dibs on worldwide rights to being the best. Manu Ginobili and Co. earned that distinction fair and square in Athens, and they get to keep it until somebody knocks them off their perch.
Training camp roster
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
Shane Battier, Rockets
Chris Bosh, Raptors
Bruce Bowen, Spurs
Elton Brand, Clippers
Kirk Hinrich, Bulls
Dwight Howard, Magic
LeBron James, Cavs
Antawn Jamison, Wizards
Joe Johnson, Hawks
Shawn Marion, Suns
Brad Miller, Kings
Adam Morrison, Bobcats
Chris Paul, Hornets
Luke Ridnour, Sonics
Amare Stoudemire, Suns
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Not available for Japan
Chauncey Billups (personal reasons)
Kobe Bryant (knee)
Paul Pierce (elbow)
Greg Oden (wrist)
Lamar Odom (personal reasons)
Michael Redd (personal reasons)
J.J. Redick (back)
You want to see dominant, Coach K? Go back and look at a tape of the third quarter of the Argentina-U.S. semifinal in Athens when the Argentines back-picked and back-doored the Americans into submission. That's what you're going to be up against next month, and if you infect your players with the wrong mind-set, it's going to happen again.
Better yet, Coach K, have someone from USA Basketball bring you a tape of the gold-medal game from the Tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico in 2003, when the U.S. actually did perform like the original Dream Team and crushed Argentina with a stunning display of dazzling dunks in rapid succession at the end of the first half to turn that game into a rout. Those players were so sick of hearing assistant coach Gregg Popovich tell them how good Argentina was, they poured it on extra heavy just to shut him up.
The U.S. team Larry Brown took to Athens in 2004 talked early on about being dominant, too, but when the Americans got trounced by Italy on the way to the Olympics and by Puerto Rico in their opener, they were finished mentally. First-round losses shouldn't do that to any team, because first-round losses do not knock you out of international tournaments. The elimination games don't happen until the Round of 16, and the job in the opening round is simply to win enough games to advance to the elimination round.
But is anybody in USA Basketball explaining that simple reality to the players?
Four years ago at the World Championship, the team then known as Yugoslavia was in such disarray during the opening round in Indianapolis, Serbian journalists were actually shouting down the coach as he walked off the floor. But by the time that tournament ended a couple weeks later, Yugoslavia was the champion after an overtime victory over Argentina. Sure, Vlade Divac and his teammates looked terrible in the opening round -- even worse than the Americans would look two years later when they lost to Puerto Rico and Lithuania in Athens. But they hit their peak when it mattered, and no one back in Belgrade cared at all about the first round by the time the tournament ended.
During this past NBA season, I asked Ginobili how Argentina could have looked so bad in its quarterfinal victory over Greece at the Olympics before playing so cohesively in the semifinals against the U.S. and the gold-medal game against Italy.
"Well, every team has one bad game in every tournament, and we had ours that night but were fortunate enough to win. Our team has been through enough of those tournaments to know there's going to be a letdown somewhere along the way," Ginobili said.
Memo to Coach K: Steal Manu's words of wisdom and pass them along to your team.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Arenas brings a shooter's touch to the national team.
This whole focus on restoring U.S. dominance is so misguided, it's actually mind-boggling. It ain't 1992 anymore, Coach K, and opposing players aren't going to be asking your players for autographs after humbly being beaten into submission. The best of the rest of the world have already proved they can stand up to the U.S., and when the rest of the basketball world hears that you want to dominate 56 quarters, they're going to laugh.
They see a U.S. program that's gone 11-6 over the past four years and is showing up with another roster bereft of America's best big men and shooters. Think they're scared of being dominated? Fat chance. They're thinking about how they're going to try to pick you apart.
This should be about one thing, Coach K: winning the gold in Japan and earning an automatic berth into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That's the prize here, and it's your job to keep the players' eyes on it. What happens if your team is not dominant in a preliminary-round game against Slovenia or Italy? What if they actually lose? You want that loss to get into their heads like the loss to Puerto Rico did two years ago?
If you set the bar too high, your chances of failure increase. And if you're telling them they need to dominate 56 quarters, Coach K, you're setting them up to fail.
Speaking as an American here, do us all a favor and stop trying to turn back the clock to the Age of Barcelona. Go tell your team the truth, that their only job is to continually get better as the gold-medal game in Japan draws near.
We can talk about dominance 26 months from now when y'all get back from Beijing. Until then, let's just worry about winning. And if the path to winning includes a loss along the way, let's not create a collective mind-set among the players that makes such a loss so mentally devastating.
Just tell them to do what the Miami Heat did: Tell 'em to win their final four games, and stage one of their mission will be an unqualified success. That's the message they needed to hear on day one.
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
Hinrich is a stud.
While the rest of the world has covered a lot of ground the past decade or so, the United States is still on position to dominate world basketball. The only thing we are missing is dedication.
The international game is played by slightly different rules than our version, but no so different that our players cannot adjust. All we need is a good team, rather than a collection of individuals, and America can dominate the World Championship the same way the Dream Team did all those years ago.
The USA is down, but far from out. I will go ahead and predict right now that this current USA basketball roster can and will demolish the competition in Japan.
I love it. Coach K is the most incorrigible, overrated, arrogant little skid mark in the entire universe, and it's fantastic that this reporter has called him out. Sheshevfski's mentality is for his faggety Duke teams is not only to defeat their opponents, but to eat their children.
That rah-rah crap doesn't fly in the NBA. Too bad the world didn't get to see Coach K fall on his face with the Lakers, which is exactly what he would have done.
I've never pulled for a Coach K team in my entire life. I loathe the ground he walks on, the air he breathes, and the atmosphere he soils by his mere presence, as does any Wake Forest grad or Carolina grad, otherwise known as ABDs (anybody but Duke). If I weren't an American, I'd be pulling against him now. Hmm...I kind of like that Argentinian squad....
But if I have to pull for his team, I'll settle for this reporter's smack run against him after the first day of practice.
I freaking love it.
DaSlicer - you down wit me?
Umm, so all you non-Duke ACC guys have some kind of special knowledge about how evil Coach K is that no one else has any notice of and that you are not able to pass on because we would not understand?
Sounds to me like you guys are just sucking sour grapes; perhaps because Coach K's Duke teams have spent the past 20 years kicking your respective schools butts up and down the Carolina coast and doing so with class and dignity?
Granted that Dean Smith had a phenomenal career at UNC, and won his share of games and national title, but slamming on Coach K just because he is the coach at a rival school, then stating that the rest of us just don't understand what actually goes on because we are not around there is kinda like hating on Phil Jackson just because he is the coach of the Lakers and happened to beat the Spurs in a few heated and controversial series.
Okay, so I went on a Coach K rant. It happens. But DaSlicer is right - it's difficult to understand unless you have really been around it. Both of us have elaborated on this topic in past threads over the years, but suffice to say that Coach K's public persona is a total Madison Avenue fabrication. The dude's on-air persona might as well be in CG animation.
Try sitting behind the Duke bench, as I have at the ACC tournament, and listening to what he spews on his players, the officials, and opposing players. Yes, opposing players. Or try asking him why he really had to step down the year he complained of back problems and his team finished way below .500. Or maybe do some follow-up on assistant coaches who have worked for him and see what they have to say about how much "class" he has. Please. I have a few too many friends coaching basketball in NC who have told me and others a few too many stories. And these guys have no reason to lie. One would think that anyone in coaching would want to be on the Duke staff. Well, that's not the case. Not everyone is willing to sell his soul to you-know-who.
The Carolina/Duke rivalry is very much like Texas/Oklahoma football, or USC/UCLA, or Georgia/Florida. I'd love to say that Wake Forest is as big of a rival to Duke, but we hold our own with those jerk offs for a tiny school of around 4500 or so. But rest assured that We would rather beat Duke more than any other school - and that goes back to the days of Mark Alarie, David Henderson, Johnny Dawkins, and that buffoon Jay Bilas - the original steroid eating freak.
But what makes the rivalries extra special is that everybody in North Carolina, as well as the entire ACC, knows how much of a cretin Coach K is. And because of great guys like Dean Smith and Roy Williams, it's kind of become the guys in the white hats against the guys in the black hats. When those kids from UNC went down to Duke this year and beat JJ and the colossally overrated Sheldon Williams in their final home game, it couldn't have possibly been more poetic. And to silence those condescending excuses for Americans they call "fans" in those Cameron bleachers -- that was a moment which epitomized what is so eternally sweet about Tobacco Road basketball.
So Rooster, we're not sucking on sour grapes at all - just stating facts. And the word "class" would never, ever enter my consciousness when referring to him, nor would it to any Carolina or Wake or NC State fan.
Coach K is a damn good coach and perhaps the best of this generation in college ball (close w/ him, Dean Smith) but him getting the coaching nod over Gregg Popovich or Mike D'Antoni is questionable.
I'm a bigger fan of the college game, have covered it for a newspaper and absolutely love the game, as most know about in this forum and even I had to question his annointment of US team coach.
Well, the fact that Coach K is leading Team USA? Please.
Memo to USA Basketball: The Olympic teams are now using professional players.
Gregg Popovich was the only logical choice, and they blew it by not appointing him.
Here's Sheridan's follow up, with an emphasis on Bowen and Ginobili:
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