ONE LAST GOLD RUSH FOR COACH K

Mike Krzyzewski is preparing for his last tournament as coach of the USA’s men’s basketball team.

It comes at the end of a reign that has included two Olympic gold medals and ten-year unbeaten run.

Now 69, he took over as coach after the USA finished a disappointing third at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games – the only time since NBA players began competing at Barcelona 1992 that the USA has not won the gold medal.
After a defeat at the hands of Greece in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Championships in his first major tournament in charge, his teams have been on a streak of redemption, winning gold at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and at the last two World Cups.

“It’s been the ultimate honour of my life – my business life in coaching, and I’ve coached for 41 years,” said Coach K who has coached Duke University since 1980 and has won more men’s college basketball games than any other coach.

“There’s no greater honour than to coach your country’s team, and to coach the US team with not just their level of talent but commitment that these guys have shown – I’ve learned so much.

“I’ve learned from my players, I’ve learned from the international community, I’ve learned about the beauty of international play. Over the last 11 years I’ve gotten better as a result of being given the honour of coaching, so it’s been a beautiful thing for me.”

He has taken his experience forming special bonds with younger players as a college coach and used it to great effect with the professionals on the national team.

“It’s his last hurrah,” said USA guard Kyrie Irving who played briefly under him at Duke. “The connection I’ve had with him since I left Duke, only playing 11 games and now having the opportunity to win gold here in Rio, it’s nothing short of amazing.

“Honestly, him knowing me as a 17-year-old kid and now seven years later me being the starting point guard of this team, time is changing but I love to see the growth of not only him but myself. And us coming together has been great.”

These Games will be a testing cup for Kevin Durant as well, his first opportunity to play with his future running mates in Golden State, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“Just getting to know them off the court, getting to know how they move and how they work, I think that’s the most important part,” he said. “On the court, once we figure that out it’ll be pretty smooth but just getting to know them off the court and how they approach the game and how they approach life in general. I think that’s one thing I can take away with me the most and it definitely can help us on the court as well.”

It seems hard to see a challenger. Perhaps France on Tony Parker’s final fling on the FIBA page. Maybe Spain, despite the loss of Marc Gasol.

“We don’t have Marc, and for us he was very important,” Nikola Mirotic admitted. “So we need to find out how we’re going to play without him. I’m sure that we’re going to find out what’s our best game. Defensively we need to step up, especially because Marc is not here, but we have a very talented team.”

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