Mike Krzyzewski has returned from Rio, creating a bit of stir Monday at RDU airport as he came striding through the concourse.
Less than 24 hours after guiding the U.S. men’s basketball team to a gold medal in the Summer Olympics, the Duke coach was back in North Carolina, road weary perhaps and happy to be home after being away for five weeks.
The welcoming party included Blue Devils assistant coaches Nate James and Jon Scheyer and several others from Duke, and there were hugs all around, but there also were shouts of “Coach K!” and “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” in the airport from those surprised to see Krzyzewski.
“I’m proud of my team,” Krzyzewski said at a news conference. “I thought we played our best game in the gold-medal game. I’m just excited to be back.
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“It’s a long journey, and I thought we kept getting better, and we were at our best in the medal round. Our defense adjusted to the type of play we had to play against. Then we were giving up, instead of 90 points, 75. And in the championship game, until the last few minutes we gave up 50. So the guys really played well defensively.”
Team USA escaped a scare against Serbia in a preliminary round game, winning 94-91 after Serbia missed a late 3-pointer. On Sunday, in the gold-medal game, the U.S. whipped Serbia 96-66.
Kevin Durant had 30 points, 24 in the first half as the U.S. built a 52-29 halftime lead. The rest was easy as Krzyzewski became the first U.S. coach to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in men’s hoops.
So ended a run that began in Beijing in 2008 and continued in the London Games in 2012, with New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony a constant on all three gold-medal teams but also with a different cast of players through the years — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and others.
Soon after Sunday’s game, Bryant tweeted: “Coach K thank YOU. With your leadership we learned that playing for the U.S. is greater than playing for US.”
The whole experience, the last decade really, I thought it would be an amazing honor and it was, is. But I never knew I would learn so much and develop the relationships and see an incredible infrastructure develop.
Krzyzewski again said he has coached his last U.S. national team, saying, “It’s time” while also saying it would take some time to sink in. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will take over as head coach for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“The whole experience, the last decade really, I thought it would be an amazing honor and it was, is,” Krzyzewski said. “But I never knew I would learn so much and develop the relationships and see an incredible infrastructure develop. …
“It’s kind of like a college, when you go from being a team to being an outstanding program. We have an outstanding program right now. I’ve been a part of it but certainly not the only part of it. It’s built to last.”
While LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and a few other NBA stars did not commit to playing in this Olympics, Krzyzewski said it allowed others such as Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors a chance to be on the team. Coach K called Lowry an “unsung hero” for the U.S., saying, “He ended up being incredibly valuable, on the court and off the court.”
Krzyzewski noted that starting in 2008, it was decided the U.S. needed a “fight song.” A video, which included the late Marvin Gaye singing the national anthem before the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, as well as images of the Olympic players, was put together and shown to the team before games.
But such motivation can only go so far. Team USA, the Olympic favorite every year since 1992, when the “Dream Team” went to Barcelona and NBA players began to fill the roster, had to respond, handle that pressure, win.
“To me, there were more good teams in this Olympics than there were in ’08 and ’12 — more medal-worthy teams,” Krzyzewski said.
But it ended with the U.S. players again atop the podium, gold medals around their necks as Krzyzewski stood close by, beaming. Only the athletes in the Olympics receive medals, but Krzyzewski said USA Basketball gives the U.S. coaches replica medals. That includes Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, an Olympic assistant who Krzyzewski credited with being “basically a co-coach.”
For Krzyzewski, the Olympics again was a family affair. His wife, Mickie, was in Rio. So were his daughters, their husbands and seven grandchildren — Team K.
Asked Monday if he wished he could, say, have a week at the beach to relax before jumping back into his Duke basketball duties, Krzyzewski smiled and said he just wanted to go home.
“I’m not sure if my dog knows me,” he joked.