CHICAGO -- When Mike Krzyzewski was a teenage basketball player here, he haunted the Ukrainian Village playgrounds near his house and rode the Damen Avenue bus to hoop at places such as Saint Philip High School.
The Duke head coach reminisces easily about these memories of a bygone Chicago -- Saint Philip closed in 1970 -- but while Kryzyweski’s Chicago is much different than the current iteration, one thing remains the same: This is a city crazy about basketball.
Krzyzewski has a current reason to feel pride about Chicago basketball. He recruits the best of the best of Chicago for Duke and the U.S. men’s national team, and business is good.
Krzyzewski, a frequent visitor to his hometown, will bring the national team back this summer for a warm-up game against Brazil before decamping to Spain for the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Brazil game, scheduled for Aug. 16 at the United Center, is the signature event of the four-day Nike World Basketball Festival. But Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Krzyzewski are also crowing about the rest of the proceedings, which will include clinics for kids, pro-am league games and community events. Players from the national team will coach and do community work during the week.
The festival, now in its third year, will begin at the 63rd Street Beach House in the South Side. Krzyzewski said he's excited for his team to interact with Chicago outside the confines of the United Center or nice restaurants.
“That’s really what the World Basketball Festival is about,” Krzyzewski said in a phone interview. “Going into a great city, a city that loves basketball.”
Emanuel, who covets bringing sporting events to the city, wants to see Chicago recognized as the basketball capital of the world.
“We have a rich basketball history in the city and I want the rest of the country to see that,” Emanuel said by phone. “This is an incredible basketball town, and there’s no other city like it. And I’m glad the festival will allow 5,000 kids to get access to free basketball clinics from professionals.”
Emanuel has become a regular presence at high-profile high school games. He watched Simeon games with Jabari Parker's parents and he was in the front row for a classic city championship game between Jahlil Okafor's Whitney Young and Cliff Alexander's Curie this past season. He said he would love to see Chicagoans emulate Okafor and Parker for their academic success, if not their skill level.
But their basketball isn't too shabby, either.
On Thursday, Parker has the chance to be the third Chicago product to go No. 1 in the NBA draft since 2008, when the Bulls selected Derrick Rose. Anthony Davis went first overall in 2012. Okafor and Alexander, should they leave school after one season, could vie for the top pick in 2015.
While Krzyzewski doesn’t know Kansas-bound Alexander, who has national-team experience, just yet, he coached Parker last season and has coached Davis and Rose on the national team. He will coach Okafor this season at Duke.
“These are four of the nicest guys in the whole world,” Krzyzewski said. “If you put 100 people together and said where would we rank these guys, they’d be at the top. If you said where do you rank them as basketball players, they’d be at the top, too.”
Rose, of course, is the big question for the U.S. squad. He’s reportedly playing five-on-five, a rarity for him in the summer, after missing most of this past season with another knee injury. Considering this injury, a surgically repaired medial meniscus in his right knee, wasn’t nearly as serious as his previous ACL tear, Rose was expected to be ready for this summer. But will he be himself again?
Krzyzewski said he won’t know if Rose is ready to make the 12-man roster until he sees him in action, though one of his U.S. team assistants, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, is surely pushing for Rose to play.
“We’ve been getting good reports,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re hoping, physically, he’ll be ready to go. Now, will he be where his skills in five-on-five situations are ready to go? He’s working four or five hours a day, high intensity, high speed.
“He wants it badly. This would be a good springboard, the World Cup, going into the season in Chicago. Tom is on the staff, so that makes it even better.”
Emanuel and Krzyzewski both chuckled when asked if they were going to recruit Carmelo Anthony, who declared for free agency on Monday.
"Wherever Carmelo goes, they'll be very lucky," Krzyzewski said. "He's been one of our key players for the United States. He's really been the ultimate team player for us. Even in London [during the 2012 Olympics], I asked him to come off the bench because I wanted to start one group and I thought he'd give us firepower and experienced national play off the bench, just like [Dwyane] Wade in Beijing [during the 2008 Games]. Melo said: 'Coach, whatever you want to do. I just want to win.' That's the kind of guy he is, he's a warrior. I'd want him on any team."
Emanuel, ever the politician, was more succinct.
“If Coach T is for it, I’m for it,” he said of the Bulls bringing Anthony aboard. “This is a great city for a great basketball player.”