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Grading Coach K

All in all, Duke legend has Team USA on right track

Posted: Saturday September 2, 2006 4:22PM; Updated: Saturday September 2, 2006 4:22PM
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By and large, Mike Krzyzewski's team improved its play every night out, including an impressive bounce back from the loss to Greece.
By and large, Mike Krzyzewski's team improved its play every night out, including an impressive bounce back from the loss to Greece.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

After Team USA's surprising salvation of its World Championship run with a 15-point win over Argentina and bronze medal showing, it seems as good a time as any to break down the influence of coach Mike Krzyzewski on this group of youngsters. We're grading Coach K in a vacuum, mind you, leaving whatever prejudices (good and bad) created by his 25-year run as coach of the Duke Blue Devils out of the equation.

Overall, it's hard to be too harsh on the coach for failing to deliver the gold medal. By and large, his team improved its play every night out, with only a 27-minute long blip against the Grecian team keeping it from the top spot in the tourney. Krzyzewski, for better or worse, passed on explicitly putting his own personal stamp on this team, allowing for Team USA to grow on its own, and as an extension of Jerry Colangelo's personal expectations for how the group is supposed to play.

In the short term, this may have cost the squad a gold medal, and a chance at re-winning over dubious stateside onlookers. In the long term, we think Coach K put Team USA back on the right track, allowing his young team to feel proud of its accomplishments in spite of the disappointing bottom line, while finally bringing the Team USA ideal into the 21st century. Remember, as good as the U.S. should be at international tournaments, the entire Team USA organization needed to re-evaluate itself and start over following its mess of a 2004 Olympic run. Anyone expecting Team USA to waltz through the tournament feeding off talent alone just doesn't understand international basketball, and anyone expecting veteran-level smarts and savvy from this group of players is just refusing to acknowledge just how young this group of players is. Krzyzewski laid the foundation this summer, in spite of a rough loss to the Greeks, and for that he should be commended.

Beyond that, here's a look at some of Coach K's hits and misses:

Gilbert Arenas should have been on this team. The tryout camp's most mercurial player, Arenas has long matched bouts of giddiness and brilliant play with mope sessions that see him doubting himself and his place amongst the NBA's top players. Krzyzewski needed to recognize this, and not allow Arenas to mope his way out of camp -- because his long range shooting and ability to cause turnovers would have been a boon to this burgeoning international powerhouse.

• As has been discussed endlessly in these pages, the idea of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as a power forward seemed like a good idea at the outset, but it consistently hurt Team USA's chances in the tournament. And yet, Krzyzewski stuck with it, to the point where Elton Brand (playing center) looked as if he wanted to strangle Anthony at times during Team USA's win over Argentina. James and Anthony have played defense on the wing their entire lives, shoddy defense at that, and now you expect them to guard the front of the rim on those incessant international backdoor cuts?

The group of big men that saw heavy minutes in Japan can handle guarding the three-point line, as well as covering all angles on the interior. Brand, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard deserved more chances to play alongside each other -- rather than being surrounded by four guards with dubious defensive instincts.

• The sound of Coach K referring to some of the Greek players during Friday's postgame by their numbers was more than a little frustrating. If pronunciation is an issue, that's fine -- I still struggle with Darius Songaila's name during the odd radio interview. But if it belied their unfamiliarity with these players' games, then you're lacking in the excuse department.

Assistant coach (and Phoenix Suns boss) Mike D'Antoni was supposed to help in this regard, so it has us wondering if his scouting reports weren't poured over enough. A trip to YouTube this time last year would have shown you Vasileios Spanoulis' perimeter shooting struggles, and yet the U.S. treated him like he was Reggie Miller coming off a baseline screen. By the time Spanoulis started to believe that he was, in fact, the latest incarnation of Reggie Miller, it was too late for the U.S.