Mark Story: Coach Cal to replace Coach K with U.S. Olympic team? Not likely

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 13, 2012 

Mike Krzyzewski, left, said 2012 was his last year as an Olympic coach. John Calipari's skillset is suited to Olympic team's unique challenges.

A summer basketball edition of the smash game show, Truth or Fiction:

Topic One: Assuming Mike Krzyzewski means it when he says 2012 was his last Olympics as coach of the men's U.S. national basketball team, John Calipari will replace him.

Verdict: Fiction.

Calipari would bring some big strengths to the role of U.S. Olympics coach.

He has shown at Kentucky he is unusually skilled at getting talented players to sublimate individual goals for the good of collective achievements.

At UK, he's also shown a knack for getting teams filled with new players to gel quickly.

Both of those qualities are exactly what it takes to coach a U.S. Olympic team.

Also, the UK coach has existing relationships with several of the rising young players — Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, John Wall — who could form the nucleus of future U.S. national teams. That's vital when, as with the U.S. Olympic team, you are essentially asking pro players to volunteer their time to play for their country.

Yet two factors work against the idea of Coach Cal replacing Coach K.

Calipari is such a polarizing figure in basketball circles, would USA Basketball want the controversy that could come with picking him?

Secondly, after a college coach has led the U.S. in the last two Olympics, I expect the NBA to want one of its coaches to lead the next Olympics team.

Topic Two: Philadelphia 76ers Coach Doug Collins — one of the members of the ill-fated 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team — should replace Krzyzewski as USA coach.

Verdict: Fiction.

Like all who remember the hosing that the 1972 U.S. Olympic team got in Munich (at the time, I was an outraged 8-year-old), I understand the sentiment behind those pushing for Collins.

In '72, a 21-year-old Collins hit what might have been the two most pressure-packed free throws in the history of American basketball. With the U.S. trailing the Soviet Union 49-48 with three seconds left in the gold medal game, Collins drained a pair of foul shots.

After his second free throw, the Russians inbounded the ball and failed to score.

USA 50, USSR 49. Final.

The Soviets appealed the outcome, saying that the referees had overlooked their attempt to call time out. Three seconds were put back on the clock and the Russians got another chance.

They failed to score again.

USA 50, USSR 49. Final.

Next, the man who ran the international basketball federation, Great Britain's R. William Jones, literally came down out of the stands and ordered three seconds be put back on the clock yet again.

The third time the game's final three seconds were played, Russia's Aleksander Belov caught a court-length pass and scored a layup just ahead of the final buzzer.

USSR 51, USA 50. Final.

This time, the final result stood.

Collins and his teammates refused to accept the silver medal, a decision that stands to this day (the 1972 Olympic team is scheduled to have a reunion at Georgetown College Aug. 23-26).

Though some have since tried to portray that as an act of bad sportsmanship, I think it was a principled stand against what was, in the context of sports, an injustice.

Yet for all the emotional appeal of hiring Collins, he is not the strongest choice to coach the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics. The goal of USA Basketball should be to hire the best coach it can, period.

San Antonio's Greg Popovich, with four NBA titles, should get first shot at leading the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics. If he doesn't want it, Boston's Doc Rivers — also a championship-winning coach who is popular with NBA players — should be the next choice.

Topic three: After his stellar performance with the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, it's now socially acceptable for (non-Cleveland) basketball fans to again root for LeBron James.

Verdict: Truth.

The way King James cut ties with Cleveland — The Decision — was bad form; but his strong play for Team USA coming after he "put up" under pressure for the Miami Heat in the NBA finals has again made James a figure worthy of respect as a basketball player.

NBA players sometimes get a bad rap in the behavioral realm, but in London during the men's basketball competition it wasn't our guys who were tanking, flopping and punching people in the gonads.

On the court, the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team — led by James — was a class act.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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