- Last Updated: 6:18 AM, July 29, 2012
- Posted: 12:46 AM, July 29, 2012
LONDON — He is a lightning rod in so many ways, but there is one thing you can never question about Mike Krzyzewski, and that is this: There never has been a basketball coach for whom wearing the American flag on his shirt has meant more.
Ours is a nation so protective of its native game, and when we have taken it to the Olympics, it always has held deep meaning for the men in charge — so many of whom stacked gold medals in the history books. Dean Smith. Bob Knight. Chuck Daly. Rudy Tomjanovich. Lenny Wilkens.
Even the men responsible for the three earth-rattling basketball losses in the nation’s history — Henry Iba, John Thompson, Larry Brown — have impeccable credentials, and ached for coming up short. And all of them bled for the privilege of leading basketball teams into Olympiads.
Still, Krzyzewski has a little something extra on his dossier. He was a three-year point guard at West Point. He served five years in the Army, rising to the rank of captain. He retains a deep affection for his alma mater, and a deeper sense of duty representing the nation it exists to defend.
“Everything I am, everything I do, it has some basis in what I learned at West Point, and what I experienced serving my country,” Krzyzewski said recently, between answering questions about what may well be the deepest team the U.S. ever has brought to an Olympics. “And I am always very well aware that we are playing for the colors on our uniform, which are also the colors of the flag.”
Krzyzewski long has tried to establish in his players at Duke a sense of belonging to something higher than themselves. Though almost every coach does that to a degree, few can point to such a prodigious depth of duty as Krzyzewski himself. Many of his players have taken to the teaching.
Few have done as much about it as Luol Deng, who played only one year for Krzyzewski at Duke but nevertheless developed a strong bond with his coach that lasts to this day. In these Olympics, Deng will compete for Great Britain, the land that provided his family with asylum when life in their native Sudan became too dangerous.
“If not for this country, Luol might not be here, and I think he has always felt a debt of gratitude for that,” Krzyzewski said. “He is a man who feel deeply about these kinds of things. And the opportunity to give back to a country that has given him and his family so much ... I know that was important for him. I’m proud of him.”
Though Krzyzewski inherited a USA Basketball program that has been an international powerhouse for close to 80 uninterrupted years, his former player is trying to provide England with a sliver of success that it has rarely known. It lost all five of its games at the 1948 London Games — its only Olympic appearance — and as of six years ago didn’t even have a national basketball federation.Follow @NYPostsports