Mike Krzyzewski led the United States Men’s National Team to Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016, FIBA World Cup titles in 2010 and 2014 and a 2007 FIBA Americas championship – all over the course of 11 years as head coach.
Enter Gregg Popovich.
The longtime coach of the San Antonio Spurs has been the leader of Team USA since he took over for Krzyzewski following the 2016 Olympics, but he’s never actually coached a game.
Jeff Van Gundy, rather than Popovich, paced the U.S. through the qualifying rounds with a roster comprised of NBA bench players and G League talent to secure a spot in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which takes place in China from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15.
Now, Popovich gets his chance to shine on the worldwide stage, and the five-time NBA champion is currently gearing up for his first rodeo.
“Because the character of these guys is so high, I just plan to be who I am, coach the way I coach, and hopefully, they will respond,” Popovich said Monday of preparing for his debut. “I’m just thrilled for the opportunity.”
Krzyzewski’s reign spanned 38 total years with Team USA in multiple different roles. In the 15 international competitions he was involved in as a head or assistant coach, the U.S. earned 11 gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals.
That’s what Popovich is up against, but he doesn’t see it that way. He only wants to continue the legacy set before him.
Players with Olympic gold medals under Krzyzewski on this year’s training camp roster includes Harrison Barnes (2016), Anthony Davis (2012), James Harden (2012), Kevin Love (2012) and Kyle Lowry (2016).
“We take representing our country very seriously,” said USA National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo. “We don’t take it lightly. We have enough depth to keep it going. We think the World Cup is as difficult as it can be to win. This is no walk in the park, far from it.”
Van Gundy, the former head coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, will coach the USA Select Team. One player slated to be on the squad is rookie Zion Williamson, also projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The full Select Team roster will be announced at a later date.
“He was our first choice as someone that could put a team together,” Popovich, a three-time NBA Coach of the Year, said of Van Gundy. “He’s been spectacular in what he did.
“We’re going to use him like a bar of soap. He’s going to run our scouting and be in every meeting. I look forward to his counsel.”
Following the FIBA World Cup, Popovich is expected to take a majority of the roster to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.