Luke DeCock

As Duke’s Olympic basketball adventure ends, benefits linger – DeCock

Duke associate head coach Chris Collins speaks with then assistant coach Jeff Capel at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 28, 2013.
Duke associate head coach Chris Collins speaks with then assistant coach Jeff Capel at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 28, 2013. cliddy@newsobserver.com

In all three of Mike Krzyzewski’s trips to the Olympics, there has been a wide diversity of basketball voices on his coaching staff, from ACC rival Jim Boeheim to a revolving group of NBA coaches that has included Nate McMillan, Mike D’Antoni, Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams.

The one constant, other than Boeheim, has been the involvement of his Duke staff. It’s America’s team, but it’s Duke’s coaching laboratory.

Krzyzewski brought Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski with him to Beijing and London, and Jeff Capel is coming to Rio. Video coordinator Kevin Cullen, meanwhile, has been a part of the staff for all three Olympics.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to work with very best players in the world, it raises your confidence as a coach,” said Collins, now the head coach at Northwestern. “I felt like my experience with USA Basketball, I came away from that really ready to be a head coach. I had the opportunity to work with LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant) and (Dwyane) Wade and those guys respected my opinion, respected the things I said to them as a coach. That gave me amazing confidence to go into the next phase of my career.”

The spillover effect of Krzyzewski’s participation to the other members of Duke’s staff has been one of the unexpected benefits of the head coach’s Olympic tenure.

“That takes our program and the way they think of their position in our program to a different level,” Krzyzewski said. “No question about it. And they deserve it, because they don’t get paid, either. They love it. It’s an experience you can’t have in our profession, where you interact (with other coaches).”

Capel plays the biggest role, as Collins and Wojciechowski did before him. Because they all understood how Krzyzewski operates on a day-to-day basis, especially in terms of game preparation, they act as the scouting coordinator, giving him the information he needs in the format he prefers.

Monday night, after a long day with Team USA at UNLV’s practice facility, Capel went next door to watch Nigeria beat Argentina in an exhibition at the Thomas & Mack Center – two potential quarterfinal opponents for the United States in Rio.

This is once in a lifetime, or close to it, because I’m in staff meetings shaking my head.

Duke assistant Jon Scheyer

There are also benefits for those who aren’t as deeply involved. This week in Las Vegas, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith both helped out and Nate James, after overseeing Duke’s current players in Durham on Monday and Tuesday, joined the group later in the week. (So did Wojciechowski, now the coach at Marquette. Boeheim’s top assistant at Syracuse, Mike Hopkins, has been a longtime participant as well.)

“This is once in a lifetime, or close to it, because I’m in staff meetings shaking my head,” Scheyer said. “You have Coach K obviously, but (2020 U.S. coach Greg) Popovich and Jay Wright and Monty Williams and Thibodeau and Boeheim and Mike Hopkins. So many great basketball minds. It’s such a learning experience. I try to just pick up things from different people. That’s what’s fascinating to me. You have all these great coaches and they all do it their own way, not that any way is better or worse.”

And with Krzyzewski occupied with the World Cup in the summer of 2014, James and Scheyer took on a larger role in preparing the freshman class that would go on to win a national championship that spring. James was doing the same thing earlier this week in Durham with another class of talented freshmen.

Perhaps no one has benefited more from this week in Las Vegas than Smith, a Duke special assistant just getting started on his post-playing career. While the others are contributing, he’s listening. For him, this is coaching graduate school.

“Absolutely,” Smith said. “In the meetings, you see me walk in, I have my notepad and pen. I’m taking notes. I’m a student. Just like I was as a player, as a freshman and in the NBA. Now I start over. It’s a new thing for me and I have to learn.”

It’s an opportunity only Krzyzewski’s staff gets, and this summer for the final time. After the Olympics, Popovich will take over for Krzyzewski, but the USA Basketball influence on his current and former staff will continue to linger.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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