Mike Krzyzewski tried to walk away from USA Basketball after two Olympic gold medals, one world championship and a 62-1 record.
He tried to leave it all behind.
The bonds forged with players and USA Basketball staffers are too tight and his love of country – he’s a West Point guy – too strong to step down.
Krzyzewski and USA Basketball made it official Thursday: the 66-year-old Duke coach and Hall of Famer will return as coach of the United States men’s basketball team through the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It is tough to give up something you’ve absolutely loved doing for seven years, the people you’re doing it with, and most importantly, the country you’re doing it for,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “As a result of my ongoing desire to coach, I’ve decided I’d like to continue as head coach of the men’s national team especially since USA Basketball wanted me to do so. It just seems like the right thing to do.
“There is no greater honor than to coach your country’s team and to be afforded the unique opportunity to be the national team coach three times is incredible. I do not take that responsibility lightly.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo wanted Krzyzewski back and had a strategy even though Krzyzewski repeatedly said the London Olympics were his last as coach of the U.S. team. Colangelo gave Krzyzewski all the time he needed, and Colangelo never truly began looking for a replacement.
“About four years ago I was asked about Coach K’s return, and what I said then is still true now - when you have a good thing going you don’t mess with it,” Colangelo said in a statement. “I really can’t be more pleased and excited. He was and still is the right man to coach the USA national team.”
At the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions in early September – nearly a month after the London Olympics – Colangelo began to notice Krzyzewski was having “withdrawal symptoms.”
Colangelo played the situation right.
“Working with the people at USA Basketball, particularly Jerry Colangelo, has been remarkable,” Krzyzewski said. “All of those people are still in place, and I would have been the only person who wouldn’t have been back. So, we should go forward with that same team since we have done well, and hopefully we will continue to do well.”
Krzyzewski’s decision to come back has roster implications for the 2016 Olympics, starting with Miami Heat forward LeBron James who had been noncommittal about playing in Rio. James, a two-time Olympics gold medalist, and Krzyzewski have a close relationship.
“I think it’s great,” James said before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.
“What he means to USA Basketball is beyond just what we do on the court – what we stand for as Americans and being proud to wear the red, white and blue every time we step off the bus, practice, talk to the media or whatever the case may be.
“I’ve got the utmost respect and trust in Coach K. Whatever his decision was going to be, we all support that.”
Kobe Bryant, who is unlikely to play in Rio, supported Krzyzewski’s decision.
“The news on Coach K with USA Basketball is great,” Bryant said in a statement. “He is an incredible coach who worked tirelessly to prepare us for different opponents. Even as a veteran, I learned a lot from his leadership. I appreciate all he’s done over the years for USA Basketball, and our country, in this position. I think Team USA is in great hands for the next four years.”