Gregg Popovich will be next U.S. men’s basketball coach

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Gregg Popovich, then 23 years old, tried out for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. He didn’t make it. A reporter reminded the San Antonio Spurs coach of this on Friday afternoon.

“I was screwed,” Popovich interrupted, joking but in a serious tone, before the reporter could finish his question.

In 2005, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo called Mike Krzyzewski and Popovich in his search for a coach to rejuvenate the program, after the Americans lost three games at the Athens Olympics and left with a bronze medal and a new, beatable image.

“And Pop was not overly thrilled when I called him just because of NBA burnout or maybe even international burnout,” Colangelo said in 2006, according to the Denver Post. “He’d been around on a number of occasions. He didn’t show great enthusiasm.”

So Colangelo hired Krzyzewski, who guided the U.S. to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and a 75-1 record going into the Rio Olympic year. Krzyzewski announced earlier this week, as expected, that he would step down after the Rio Olympics.

Colangelo apparently knew this as far back as this summer, because that’s when he contacted Popovich again. The two Chicagoland natives met in Carmel, Calif.

This time, Colangelo had just one candidate in mind.

“I had a short list, and it started and ended with Pop,” Colangelo said in a press conference, sitting next to Popovich. “We talked about a lot of things, the past, the future. The more important thing is where are we going, going forward. He asked me a question, he said, ‘What about you? Are you going to stay on? Are you going to continue? Because if you’re not, then I don’t have interest.'”

Apparently Colangelo, 75, will continue.

Popovich, 66, was announced as the next U.S. men’s basketball head coach on Friday. He will succeed Krzyzewski, who will stay on in an advisory role, and lead it through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Way back then, when I was in my early 20s, and we all had a dream to make an Olympic team,” said Popovich, who did make it to the Olympics in 2004, as an assistant on the ill-fated Larry Brown-coached team. “That never leaves you. You grow up, and you watch the Olympic Games on TV, and you always want to be part of something like that. … In that sense, it does have an added meaning.”

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Colangelo said all roads led to Popovich in choosing Krzyzewski’s successor. Krzyzewski played at Army and is a five-time NCAA champion at Duke. Popovich played at Air Force and is a five-time NBA champion with the Spurs.

“It’s because of who he is, his character, his leadership, he’s a winner,” Colangelo said of Popovich. “His self-sacrificing attitude in terms of being a military guy. He’s respected by everyone in the basketball world and his legacy of course, relative to his championships, is extraordinary.”

Krzyzewski, 68, will become the oldest U.S. Olympic basketball coach ever in Rio. Popovich is in line to break that mark in Tokyo and sees the next five years as a challenge, saying his top priority is to maintain the standard set by Krzyzewski.

“I’m not ready to plant tomatoes,” Popovich said.

Colangelo wanted to wrap up the Krzyzewski succession plan before both the NCAA and NBA seasons began. And anything that happened in 2005, when Colangelo called Popovich and chose Krzyzewski, was yesterday’s news.

“I didn’t sense that same enthusiasm in my conversation with Pop [in 2005],” Colangelo said in 2012, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Afterward, [Popovich] sent me a letter and said I misinterpreted what he said. He felt I had misjudged him, and maybe I did. But that was a long time ago. How can anyone argue with his record, his performance?”

Krzyzewski originally intended to leave the post after leading the U.S. to a second straight gold medal at London 2012 but came back for one more run.

“Gregg Popovich is the ideal choice to take over as head coach of the USA program,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “His long track record of success – both in terms of winning championships and creating a culture of excellence – are well documented and, rightfully so, he is considered among the very best coaches in the world.”

Popovich’s current Spurs roster includes Olympians Tim Duncan (U.S.), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Boris Diaw (France) and Patty Mills (Australia). He also coached Brazilian Olympian Tiago Splitter on the Spurs the previous five seasons.

Could Duncan, now 39, mull a run for the 2020 Olympics? Like Popovich, his only previous Olympic experience was on that 2004 team, the first U.S. group of NBA players to lose at the Olympics.

“I think Timmy’s got other plans for summertimes in his future,” Popovich said.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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