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USA Basketball helped shape Duke Blue Devils' title run

INDIANAPOLIS -- Taking the stage to raise the national championship trophy was like winning the gold all over again for several Duke Blue Devils.

The influence of USA Basketball was all over Duke's 68-63 defeat of the Wisconsin Badgers on Monday, starting with its head coach.

Mike Krzyzewski, in his constant quest to learn and evolve as a coach, said he used to order instructional videos when he'd notice something from an opponent or a team he watched during a season.

Think about that for a second. The winningest coach in Division I basketball, who just claimed his fifth national title, was rewinding and fast-forwarding old VHS tapes just to pick up a new wrinkle he could use with his team.

"You really can't go to a clinic -- they expect you to be the clinic -- that's why the U.S. thing has been so good," Krzyzewski said.

Krzyzewski said every day during his work with the U.S. national team was a clinic with assistant coaches such as the Chicago Bulls' Tom Thibodeau, New Orleans Pelicans' Monty Williams, and Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange. Thibodeau told ESPN.com last week of sessions in which Krzyzewski and different coaches would be up until 4 a.m. watching film and discussing the game "like they were competing for their first championship."

"He's always challenging himself. He has this saying about, 'Take the lid off it. See where it can go,'" Thibodeau said. "You can tell he's done all these great things, and he'll continue to do great things as long as he's coaching."

Krzyzewski credited Thibodeau for how Duke altered the way it defended ball screens this season. And how the Blue Devils played zone this season, including against the Badgers in the title game, was certainly a nod to being around Boeheim.

The biggest imprint came with Duke, faced with attrition that left it with eight scholarship players, having to alter its practice regimen. By the end of the season, it was like no other team in Krzyzewski's tenure. Working with NBA players already fatigued from a long season before the national team plays in the summer, practices were not about intense games of five-on-five. It was a lot more cerebral.

"A lot of things we've done the past two months are very similar to how we did with USA Basketball," Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said.

Duke used a lot of individual work and walk-throughs to prepare for games. They would break down the game into two-on-two drills. Sometimes, he just used five-on-zero to run through plays and options. Mainly, there were practices during which there was really no contact at all.

Capel said it kept players from getting tired of each other and "they aren't tired of us. It's kind of kept everyone fresh."

"I've adapted well, and I really believe the last decade, having the honor and opportunity to coach our nation's team, has helped me adapt even more," Krzyzewski said. "But it's not like you're making a sacrifice. It's just, 'What does this group need from you?' And you try to give that. And as long as they're giving back, it's a pretty cool thing."

It wasn't just the coach who benefited from national team competition. The reason Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor played like they were mature beyond their years was in part due to their USA Basketball participation. Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer said Krzyzewski helped set the culture for USA basketball, which filtered to the youth teams.

"You talk about these guys and the games that we've been in this year -- one of the first ones being at Wisconsin -- and these guys have already been in gold-medal games, championship games playing against good players in different countries," Scheyer said. "That prepares you a lot better than just maybe playing AAU games or just high school games, so they get all those experiences."

All three played on the under-17 team that won the gold medal in Lithuania in 2012. Jones and Winslow teamed to win on the under-18 team in 2014; Winslow and Okafor won on the under-19 team in 2013; and Jones and Okafor won on the under-16 team in 2011.

"The gold medals that we did win, just having success, that's when you build confidence," said Jones, who was named the Final Four's most outstanding player.

That confidence was huge early in the season as the Blue Devils established themselves as a national title contender. That confidence was big in the tournament as they waded through the urgency of a one-game playoff.

"Winning the gold medal, that's why we've been able to play so well in situations like playing at Wisconsin, playing at Louisville," Okafor said. "We've been on the big stage together."

And they left the season on the big stage, too, this time in the form of a platform with Krzyzewski and team gathered around to raise the national championship trophy.