Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski is leaving Team USA after winning third straight Olympic basketball gold medal but Gregg Popovich is taking over and the team will be in good hands.
TIME OF TRANSITION
It is now a time for transition for USA national team but for international basketball as well. Team USA won their third straight Olympic gold medal last night in Rio, beating Serbia 96-66 in Coach K’s final game after he led the team for a full decade and became the first coach to win three Olympic gold medals. He led them to two World championship titles, and to a total record of 88-1. When he took over USA, team was in the worst shape since 1992 Dream Team – they managed to win the bronze at 2004 Olympics and had an even poorer end to the World Championships on home soil in Indianapolis two years earlier. The team now goes in the hands of Gregg Popovich, who also was the candidate to take over back in 2005. Just like Krzyzewski who graduated from U.S. Military Academy, Popovich is a military man who went to the Air Force Academy and has built one of NBA’s most successful franchises and won five championships with the San Antonio Spurs. Krzyzewski used the army as an inspiration for building his team, referring to playing for the USA as service and sacrifice, and Popovich will probably carry on that theme.
RETURN OF THE BIGGEST STARS
LeBron James skipped his fourth Olympics after leading Cleveland to the NBA title, but he said in the interview he isn’t done wearing USA shirt and left the door open for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo under Popovich whom he once noted as the best coach in NBA as has utmost respect for. In addition to James, players like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul all withdrew from this year’s Olympic Games but perhaps some of NBA’s biggest stars would be interested in playing for respected Popovich in Tokyo in four years.
FIBA WORLD CUP
Before Popovich introduces any NBA stars to his team on the next tournament, USA will likely need the help of college, NBDL or players from overseas to get them there. FIBA is introducing a new qualification system, where national teams will play home and road games against continental opponents to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The tickets for Tokyo 2020 will be then divided on that tournament. USA still don’t know its opponents but do know that qualifying games will be played during the NBA season, which will rule out Popovich and the biggest stars taking part.
Several international teams will present themselves as tough opponents in the future. Serbia, Australia, Canada and others could soon close the gap in quality behind the USA. With a second straight finals appearance in a major international tournament both played against Americans, Serbia has established itself as upcoming world basketball power. Serbs had one of the youngest teams in both tournaments in past two years and base their play on excellent defense. Australia sent its best team to Rio, but will be even stronger in the future with Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, and Dante Exum, who missed Olympics due to knee injury. Canada may have failed to qualify for 2016 Olympic Games but they missed few of their stars this summer but with NBA names like Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Ennis, they have their sights set on Tokyo. USA’s biggest rival’s this past decade Spain and Argentina are expected to bid farewell to several veterans after this tournament and will enter new qualifying phase with much younger squad just like France who has probably seen the last of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw in national shirt.