“You got to be smart, you have to be sharp. You have to know what you’re talking about. Which he does,” Kobe Bryant said. “From that standpoint, it’s been very easy for guys to buy in, because he knows his stuff.”
Colangelo and several of the U.S. players describe Krzyzewski as a “great communicator,” but Krzyzewski — who ranks first all-time among NCAA Division I men’s coaches in career victories and has claimed four national championships at Duke — believes that there is another reason that he has been able to connect so well with them.
“The fact of being a college coach helps you, because I never have to compete against them. So I can be their coach and it helps a lot,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve coached 10 of these guys. We have great relationships.”
Since an initial stumble in 2006, when the United States lost to Greece in the semifinals of the world championships in Japan — a loss he still considers the worst of his career — Krzyzewski has guided the Americans to 37 consecutive wins in international games and exhibitions and captured gold medals in the FIBA Americas championship, Beijing Olympics and the world championships in Istanbul.
“He’s an unbelievable motivator,” said Chris Paul, who is on his third team with Krzyzewski. “You have a collection of 12 of the best players in the world and every time he talks, he fully grabs our attention. Part of it is the fact that he’s been so successful. You look at his track record and guys respect him. Another thing is, he has a lot of things in common with us. We’re confident without being arrogant and Coach K is as confident as you can be — and he should be — and there is a way to do it, without being arrogant.”
The current Olympic team features five players from Beijing, five others from Istanbul, Harden and New Orleans Hornets No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who could serve as a bridge to the 2016 team if FIBA adopts a 23-and-under rule for Olympic competition. Krzyzewski is again the man responsible for bringing it all together.
“He let us know, just to be ourselves,” Durant said. “We know we can’t do that without having a team concept. It’s not about who is the best scorer or the best passer. It’s how we can come together as a group. Guys are willing to sacrifice. Minutes, points, shots, rebounds, whatever, they are willing to sacrifice and that’s the best thing. We all want to win.”