|ESPN.com: Dick Vitale||[Print without images]|
Leadership, leadership, leadership. Was there any doubt whatsoever that Mike Krzyzewski would make an impact with the USA Basketball team? From the moment USA Basketball head Jerry Colangelo made the decision to hire the Duke coach, things were on their way for the Americans to reclaim their preeminence at the Olympics.
There were those critical of the U.S. play in recent international competitions and the Americans came to Beijing with something to prove.
The championship game was no cakewalk. Yes, the U.S. built up a 14-point lead, but the Spaniards rallied and cut it to two, getting Uncle Mo (momentum) on their side. Kobe Bryant took charge in the fourth quarter, and a four-point play helped the U.S. pull away to earn that coveted gold medal.
Ultimately the Americans won the title by 11, 118-107 over Spain. Prior to that test, it was blowout city with the Coach K-led squad winning by an average of more than 30 ppg.
How did this team live up to its billing by earning the gold? Mike Krzyzewski convinced each and every player to perform with a sense of pride and passion. Each guy knew that it was team first, and they handled themselves in a classy manner.
It was not just on the basketball court, but at other Olympic venues. You could see stars showing up to cheer on the women's team, or at the swimming cube to see Michael Phelps make history. Kobe, LeBron James and company enjoyed the moment, representing their nation.
That's what Colangelo and Krzyzewski brought to this U.S. Olympic team. There was a sense of love for the jersey they wore, playing for America. Who could forget the interview Bryant gave, when he said he first put his uniform on his bed and got goosebumps knowing what it meant to represent his country.
There were a bunch of guys, with a world of talent, listening to a passionate coach, a leader. They responded in a positive way. They made the extra pass, they played phenomenal defense that often led to steals and fastbreak points in the earlier rounds. It was a thing of beauty to watch this unit perform as a team.
Big name stars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul came off the bench and contributed in major ways. This squad had tremendous depth and everyone understood their role.
It all started with leadership, and that is the word that defines Mike Krzyzewski. When all is said and done, the Hall of Fame coach may pass his mentor, Robert Montgomery Knight, as the winningest college basketball coach. Right now, Coach K can savor the moment of leading the U-S-A back into a place of dominance on the international basketball scene.