Chicago Bulls: Mike Krzyzewski
"[Syracuse's] celebration of basketball up there and our celebration of basketball here was phenomenal," Krzyzewski said. "It's what makes our sport so good. I love the NBA to death, but this is something they can't do, and we should always recognize that. The [game] in Syracuse and here, that's our product. That's our product -- genuineness, purity."
Is there more genuineness and purity in college than there is in the pros, as Krzyzewski asserted? That could be argued on both sides forever. But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is an example of a man who decided that the pro game fit his style more than the college one.
Thibodeau spent a few years coaching on college campuses as his professional career got started, just one as a head coach at his alma mater, Salem State University, but he ultimately decided to make a niche for himself in the NBA. That's why he spent the better of two decades as an NBA assistant before landing the job with the Bulls four years ago.
"Like every job or in every industry there's pros and cons to everything," Thibodeau said. "So college is a great game. There's I think a lot more to college than basketball. You're worried about your kids going to class, what they're doing in the dorms, and you're really responsible for all of that. In the pros, it's mainly all basketball. Every day you're not thinking about recruiting calls. You're not thinking about the AAU coaches.
"I would say with Coach K ... when you talk to a lot of college coaches the big thing is the recruiting part takes a lot out of you. In the pros, it's a lot more games and you're dealing with men. It's a lot different. So I think both are great games, and obviously for me, I prefer the pro game. It's a different game. But I loved college, also. I think you have probably a little bit more of an impact on the players off the floor. Certainly at a much different age. But when we get them, you've got a guy who's in his 30s, he's a man."
For Krzyzewski, it's the ability to impact college-aged kids that he seems to enjoy the most. He's rejected overtures from pro teams in the past so that he could stay at Duke.
"Certainly there's passion and excitement at the highest level in the NBA," Krzyzewski said in clarifying his comments a few weeks after the Syracuse game. "It's a little bit different than that in collegiate play. The main thing that I would miss is the development of young men into men. And I call it crossing bridges with players. Not just player issues where you get better as a player, but also how you grow as a person. That's different than how it is in the pros. And I would miss that, that's been probably the thing I've loved the most in the four decades I've been a college basketball coach."
The passion is what both men thrive on. The passion makes the games on both levels special. But the passion of the NCAA tournament is different -- and Thibodeau's players know it.
"It's do or die," Noah said. "The intensity of March Madness is like a Game 7 because you win or you go home. In the playoffs it's funny, in the playoffs, the team that usually loses a game usually comes out with the better intensity. It's really true. But it's just more games. The intensity of March Madness is it's a Game 7 every time and that's what makes it so exciting."
Even Thibodeau admits to feeling a little different once March Madness begins.
"It's exciting," he said. "And I've gotten to know some of the college coaches; I think the atmosphere is really exciting. Certainly the NCAA tournament, basically every game is a Game 7. And one game, anything can happen, so you see upsets. And the way it's constituted today where there's a lot of one-and-done guys. And so some of the mid-major programs have four-year seniors, those teams are really good.
“"Every year there seems to be a team that emerges that's like that, that can beat everybody because they've got guys that have been together for four years and they grow together and they have a belief and a system where in one game a guy gets hot or you're playing against someone who has a good player who gets in foul trouble, anything can happen in those situations."
I think he has a college coach approach. Just the intensity that he brings every day. I think Thibs, he coaches like a college coach. It's just like every game is a Game 7. We could be in Milwaukee in January, a regular season game, it's Game 7 for Thibs all the time. So yeah, he fits the mold (of a college coach).” -- Joakim Noah on Tom Thibodeau
The team-building aspect always appeals to Thibodeau, but it's the recruiting that kept him away from the game Krzyzewski loves so much. Still, Thibodeau's players believe that if he ever decided to get back into the college game, the Bulls coach wouldn't have much problem adapting.
"I think it's a lot easier to go from pros to college," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said. "[Thibodeau] would be a terrific college coach. He'd be a terrific anything coach because he works at it so hard and he prepares and he knows his stuff. There's definitely a lot of guys in college that couldn't handle the pros but certainly he could handle the college [game] for sure."
Dunleavy would know. He is the son of former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. and he played for Krzyzewski at Duke. He and his teammates understand that Thibodeau has a knack for teaching the game, a skill that would benefit him on any level.
"I think he has a college coach approach," Noah said. "Just the intensity that he brings every day. I think Thibs, he coaches like a college coach. It's just like every game is a Game 7. We could be in Milwaukee in January, a regular-season game, it's Game 7 for Thibs all the time. So yeah, he fits the mold [of a college coach]."
Noah and Thibodeau thrive off each other's ability to treat every game like it's Game 7. That's one of the reasons Noah has been able to elevate his game under Thibodeau and become an All-Star the past two seasons. It's also the reason he looks back so fondly at his time at Florida where he won two national championships.
"I don't really have time to miss it because I love what I do," Noah said. "I love playing for the Bulls and I love where we're at. But it was the best times of my life, playing at Florida, where it was really special to me. And be able to win -- those were the memories that I'll cherish forever so I don't miss them but those were great times, man."
Thibodeau is trying to make some memories of his own with Noah and the Bulls these days. He's dedicated a majority of his professional life to winning an NBA championship, a feat he accomplished as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in 2008. It's the work ethic that has earned him respect throughout all levels of the basketball world. The Duke coach said he and Thibodeau, who is an assistant on Krzyzewski's Team USA staff, don't spend time talking about the intricacies and differences of the pro and college game -- just the sport itself.
Whether Thibodeau coached in the pros or in college doesn't matter much to Krzyzewski. He knows he would be successful because of the way in which he prepares.
"What we do is discuss basketball," Krzyzewski said. "I love Tom. I think we got lucky to get him on our [Team USA] staff. I like him in every way. As a guy, he's a guy's guy, straight [forward], funny. I don't know how well people know him but he's funny. He's a good man. And then, he's an outstanding coach. One of the best. And maybe as good a guy in preparing as there is now coaching any level, any level of basketball on this planet."
It's rare that college games create this kind of buzz so early in the season but that's exactly what has happened, even within the Bulls locker room, because of the teams in play. When Michigan State faces off against Kentucky and Duke squares off against Kansas, there will be plenty of interested eyes on those games from within Thibodeau's locker room.
Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Luol Deng all played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. Thibodeau served as an assistant under Krzyzewski on Team USA's staff last summer. Derrick Rose played for Krzyzewski on Team USA in 2010.
Rose played for John Calipari when Calipari was the coach at Memphis and Marquis Teague played for Calipari just a couple of seasons ago at Kentucky. Nazr Mohammed is a proud Kentucky alumnus and Kirk Hinrich played at Kansas. All those connections are part of the reason many players plan to join their coach at the United Center on Tuesday night.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was inside the United Center as Dunleavy had his best game in a Bulls uniform, helping to prevent a potential Cleveland Cavaliers rally with a pair of late field goals, including a 3-pointer, and five free throws. Chicago pulled away for a 96-81 victory.
Dunleavy is now 11 years removed from his days at Duke, but the instinct to impress his former coach remains strong.
“It’s nice having the good Duke vibes around, other than my teammates in Carlos [Boozer] and Luol [Deng],” Dunleavy said.
Those Duke vibes were strong as the entire current Blue Devils team was on hand Monday night, one day before it was scheduled to take the same United Center court for a doubleheader that also featured fellow college basketball powerhouses Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas.
Krzyzewski met with his former players before the game, while Dunleavy waited for the final 12 minutes to make his mark. He finished the night with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes, finally looking like the player the Bulls thought they were getting in the offseason.
“I thought there in the third quarter there was a sequence where we got into a little bit of a rhythm and then I thought Mike did a very good job in the fourth quarter for us,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer gave him the lowdown on how Thibodeau motivates them and the rest of the Chicago Bulls day in and day out.
“Before the announcement was made about him being one of the assistants I asked my guys who played for him. I have a couple guys who've played for him in Chicago, and they love him,” Krzyzewski told ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell on Tuesday. “They say, ‘Coach, we're unbelievably prepared. He's the best. We fight for him and we know he'd fight for us.’”
"I think Thibodeau is one of the great coaches in basketball," Krzyzewski said Friday on "Mike & Mike In The Morning." "He's developed a culture of tough character.
"I know Carlos obviously really well, I've coached him, I coached Luol, those kids ... they just have great character. And the Bulls are a blue-collar team in a blue-collar town, and I think it's one of the great stories right now in the NBA, what the Bulls are doing.
"I think they have a philosophy that they don't talk about being sick all year. They don't talk about being hurt all year, so when the moment of truth comes in the playoffs, they're already accustomed to a certain way of living."
Krzyzewski said the Bulls' personality fits that of the city.
"My older brother is a retired Chicago fire captain," he said. "He worked for 38 years and never missed a day of work. To me, that's how the Bulls are. That's how they live. And so when they get to the playoffs, it doesn't matter. Who do we have out there? We're going to go out there and we believe we're going to win, and those fans react to that because that's the type of town it is."
Why would I?
"It would be bigger for me to win another championship [in Chicago] than to win somewhere else," he said. "The city would love me. It would be bigger for me to even get to the second round, so imagine a championship."
Rose taking tips: Denver Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups has always spoken highly of Rose's talents, so it should come as no surprise that Rose is taking as much advice as he can from the NBA veteran.
"Chauncey, he's a veteran guy, if anything I try to learn that speed isn't everything,” Rose said. “With him, he gets things done using basic little moves, using his strength and using his experience on the court and I know it's going to take me a long time to get used to it, but I think that I should be there one day."
Coach K showing no favoritism: I asked Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski if it meant any more to him that Rose, like himself, was a Chicago native. The longtime Duke head coach stressed that he wasn't about to play any favorites.
"I just know Derrick very well because of his Chicago roots," Krzyzewski said. "But it doesn't mean any more to me for Derrick to be here than Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry because I like all of them. There's no favoritism or anything like that. Even if I like the Bulls or whatever ... Everyone's treated the same, they all have USA on their jerseys."
Derrick Rose has said many times that he would love to be on the Olympic team for the 2012 London Games.
Now he will get his chance to prove that he belongs on the team.
The Chicago Bulls point guard was one of 27 players named to the U.S. national team roster on Wednesday. Rose and the rest of the group will head to Las Vegas for a mini training camp in July, and the roster will be pared down from there as the team gets ready for the World Championships this summer.
"I think we've taken a step up from the pool that we had in the last quad," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said during a conference call Wednesday. "It's exciting to see this many people interested in being part of the program."
Obviously, one of those people is Rose.
"Yeah, that's something I would love to play [in]," Rose told me in November, regarding the possibility of playing on the Olympic team. "Hopefully, they have me on the team."
It was clear to Krzyzewski that the 21-year-old is only getting better and truly wants to be part of the National team.
"He's improved a great deal," Krzyzewski said of Rose's progression. "He's having a sensational year, especially in this second half [of the season] in bringing the Bulls back into playoff contention."
Rose's passion for the national program made an impression on the head coach.
"Derrick has made a commitment to us by being on the select team," he said. "He was there this past summer. Having these type of [national] teams get these younger players involved, then they feel the spirit and they also feel that we want them. They feel like they belong.
"One of the great sights in the last quad was leaving one of the little high school gymnasiums in Las Vegas and at the end of the practice seeing 25-30 NBA players from the Olympic team and from the select team all on that little court at the same time and building the camaraderie. We believe that Derrick has felt that, and he's a welcome addition to the pool."