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Kentucky Basketball: Krzyzewski May Have Advantages As Team USA Coach. So What?

Of course Mike Krzyzewski is using his position as Team USA coach to raise his profile for the benefit of Duke. Who can blame him?

Ethan Miller

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! has an article out today that Team USA basketball is all about Mike Krzyzewski’s recruiting and little else, and that there is nothing but risk for the NBA, which was emphatically demonstrated by the gruesome injure to Paul George in practice. First, let’s look at that last part, and we’ll get to Krzyzewsky later on.

Let’s let Woj speak for himself, though:

The World Cup of Basketball is a wonderful event, a well-run, well-coordinated tournament with pride and history and gravitas. It is something else, too: beneath the threshold of worthiness for NBA stars to participate. For Indiana Pacers star Paul George to have broken his leg in a televised pick-up game on the Vegas strip never felt as senseless as did watching the United States hang 129 points on Serbia in the gold-medal game Sunday at Palacio De Los Deportes.

Outside of Derrick Rose using FIBA as a Double-A rehab assignment and some sportswriters beefing up on Marriott points for post-summer vacations, this tournament was a waste of everyone’s time and resources. They used to call it the World Championships. Now it’s the World Cup of Basketball. This is certain: It has outlived its usefulness for the NBA, and owners and executives will be wise to petition FIBA to reshape the future of international basketball.

My hand flies up — “Oh! Oh! Mr. Wojnarowski! How, exactly was this event ever useful to the NBA?” I guess you could make the argument that it was a recruiting tool for Europe’s best players, showing off the fact that the NBA is the place where the best players in the world need to be, rather than their home countries’ professional teams. I guess. But I don’t think the NBA needed that.

No, my argument is that this has never been anything but a losing proposition to the NBA, and George’s terrible injury just reinforces that. But it is a winning proposition to NBA players, who get to enjoy a couple of weeks playing in front of people in a foreign land, representing the country that they love, and enjoying competition with some of their fellow players who grind it out for 82 games before even considering the playoffs. In other words, it’s a nice break, a nice adventure overseas that lets them do what they love for love of country.

George will be the impetus to end the full participation of NBA stars, but far from the reason. After the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the World Cup of Basketball and Olympic Games are destined to become an under-22 developmental tournament.

If this is true, it’s a shame for two reasons — One, the NBA, who benefits from the American system of government and would not exist but for that system should not allow their bottom lines to stand in the way of player participation assuming the players are willing and able. There is something to be said for national pride, and placing their respective teams’ stars off limits to preserve their financial interests smacks a little too much of indentured servitude for my comfort. If Team USA wants them and the players want to play, the NBA should stand aside.

Two, the players want to participate in events like the World Cup and the Olympics. That legitimate desire, both from a personal and patriotic standpoint, should not forcibly be sacrificed on the altar of risk avoidance and filthy lucre.

I understand an NBA owner’s reluctance to allow his prized forward to risk injury playing for Team USA. If an injury happens that sidelines a player for a season, that’s a genuine financial hardship for the team. But if Team USA is to have any meaning, it needs to have that risk. If we are going to field professional teams, the teams should be open to all professionals, not just to the ones the owners are willing to risk injury to. And how's that going to go down with the younger players?  The message, "I'm just not that into you" isn't really one the NBA wants to send to the people it "allows" to play, is it?

But the real beneficiary of Team USA is not the pros or the USA, according to Wojnaraowski — it’s Mike Krzyzewski:

When Team USA goes to the U.S. Military Academy to practice on its pre-tournament tour, guess what the stories are: Krzyzewski returns to his West Point roots. There’s Coach K with the cadets. There’s Coach K in the mess hall. There’s Coach K teaching those rich NBA players about sacrifice and selflessness. People call Calipari the greatest self-promoting coach of his time, but Krzyzewski doesn’t get nearly the credit due him. USA Basketball is a machine with its tentacles deep into every level of basketball, and Krzyzewski taps into every element.

The horror! You mean Duke’s coach is using his position as the coach of Team USA to raise his profile among the high school players on the under-19 team? Say it ain’t so, Woj!

Of course Krzyzewski is going to use his position to raise his profile, and he’s been doing that for years. Kentucky fans have absolutely no right to complain about this in any aspect. Nobody here complained when John Calipari took the job coaching the Dominican Republic team, which just happened to have a then very young Karl-Anthony Towns playing for them. A coincidence, I’m sure. And where did Towns wind up? You know the answer to that.

So before Kentucky fans get all up in arms about the unfairness of it all, let’s just remember that Krzyzewski has been the coach of Team USA since 2005, and since then he’s been to exactly one NCAA Final Four — 2009-10 when he won the NCAA Tournament. Does anyone think he hasn’t been using Team USA to his advantage every one of those years? It just hasn’t done him much good, judging by his NCAA Tournament performance.  As a final point, despite his position, it is Calipari who has recruited the best over the years Krzyzewski has been Team USA coach.  So maybe North Carolina fans have a legitimate beef, but Kentucky fans manifestly do not.

The bottom line is, any college coach would use this opportunity the way Krzyzewski is. Billy Donovan is surely doing so as the U19 head coach. Can you imagine if someone suggested Calipari and his “players first” mentality as Donovan’s replacement in that position? The outcry from college basketball would be endless, but that’s just because they fear Calipari, and they are right to do so.  They fear Donovan less.


So the NBA stars climbed onto the podium on Sunday night at the Palacio De Los Deportes, and there was Mike Krzyzewski making his move to the far end, framing himself with the gold medalists. The flashes flickered, the confetti swirled and the NBA had a chance to take a long, long look at the photo and ask itself: Who benefited the most in this picture, and why the hell would we keep doing this?

Two reasons: 1) because it’s Team USA and that matters, and 2) because players want to participate. Those are both very important reasons. If Krzyzewski is inuring some of his position to his benefit, how does that hurt either of the two interests above, and why must the NBA benefit at all? Yes, some Kentucky, North Carolina, and UCLA fans might be incensed, but I’m not in the least. If it were Coach Cal in the position of Coach K, he’d be doing the same thing.

Kentucky fans have been the victims of enough double standards to know one when we see one. Let’s not become what we despise.