(Reuters) - The star-studded U.S. national basketball team cannot afford to get complacent about being the sport’s superpower given the pace of emerging talent around the globe, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said on Thursday.
According to Krzyzewski, having the privilege of coaching teams that have boasted NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul does not come with a guarantee of beating competition.
“People think that because we have all these guys you just roll out a ball and you’re going to win,” Krzyzewski said at a news conference to announce he would return as coach of the U.S. national team through the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“If you do your program that way, you’re going to get beat.”
Respect for the competition is fundamental to Krzyzewski’s approach and the lessons he has drilled into his U.S. teams have paid off with a 62-1 mark that includes two Olympic gold medals and a current 50-game winning streak.
Krzyzewski said all you have to do is look at the rosters of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) teams to appreciate the growth of the game globally.
“There are a lot of great teams out there and you see these guys playing in the NBA,” Krzyzewski said at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he has led the Blue Devils to four men’s college basketball championships.
“Twenty-one percent of the NBA is international and these teams can have anywhere between 10 and 12 NBA players on them. And we have 12 NBA players.
“And we’ll have five of them out there at one time and they’ll have five. As long as it’s five against five we could lose at any time.
“And that’s the respect you have to give your opponent and that’s what we do with our preparation.”
Krzyzewski took over as national team coach in 2005 after Argentina beat the U.S. in the semi-finals of the 2004 Olympics. Two years earlier, the Americans failed to reach the medals round at the world championships.
The U.S. were humbled again in Krzyzewski’s first major competition when Greece kept the Americans out of the 2006 world championship gold medal game with a semi-finals victory.
Krzyzewski, 66, said being with the U.S. team energized him.
“It’s like a teacher learning new material,” he said. “I’ve learned so much over these seven years, it’s made me better, wanting to coach even more. Instead of reducing shelf life, so to speak, I think it’s added to it.
“There are so many amazing coaches throughout the world, and they see the game sometimes in a different way, and still very effective way. If you can implement some of the things they do or try to defend or attack the things they do, it makes you better.”
The coach noted the passion with which top international teams play.
“When you’re playing Argentina or Spain, it’s a hell of a game. Those guys are playing at a whole other level.
“If you watch San Antonio (Spurs) play, take about five minutes and just watch (Argentina’s Manu) Ginobili, and you’ll see one of the great, great players of the world play. We’ve seen that. We appreciate that.
“And we appreciate it enough to work our fannies off to develop a team that’s worthy of winning against that type of feeling, that type of talent and that type of passion for the game.
“If you don’t do that for the United States, you’re going to lose. You’re not going to win by showing up. And our guys know that. The guys that played know that, 100 percent.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue