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Mike Krzyzewski on his Rio Olympic wish list, LeBron James in 2020

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NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski, who stepped down as U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach after three titles, made a rare appearance with Winter Olympians at the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala last week. There, he answered questions about Olympic basketball and why he was at a figure skating party …

OlympicTalk: Coach K and figure skating. How does that go together?

Krzyzewski: One of our dearest group of friends is Doug and Ellie Lowey [co-chairs of the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala]. And [businesswoman and gala honoree] Elaine Wynn has been one of our dearest friends forever. But the concept [of Figure Skating in Harlem] is what turns you on. We have a similar thing in Durham with the Emily Krzyzewski Center, helping first-generation kids who might want to go to college, to help them. This is such a unique idea. So, really [I’m here] in recognition to our friends, the Loweys. Then I’m going to introduce one of the honorees, Mrs. Wynn, who’s a dear friend.

OlympicTalk: What one thing would you change about Olympic basketball?

Krzyzewski: Well, I love our [Olympic] format. I don’t like the changes they just made, where the world championships [or world cup] are in 2019 instead of this summer [worlds, held every four years like the Olympics, used to be held midway between Olympics]. I liked the old format better, but I love international basketball and how well our game is played everywhere. Twenty-five percent of the NBA is international, and that will only continue to increase.

OlympicTalk: Why did you like the old worlds timing (2006, 2010, 2014) better than the new one (2019, 2023)?

Krzyzewski: I just think it gave the worlds even more recognition, instead of a prelude to the Olympics. It was its own entity. The world championships, there are 24 countries involved [expanding next summer to 32]. In the Olympics, there are 12. So, it’s different. The other thing I liked about it is when we won the gold medal, the coaches actually got one [gold medal] at the world championships [laughs].

OlympicTalk: Any players ever offer you their Olympic gold medal? Or USA Basketball make an extra one for you?

Krzyzewski: Oh, they do make an extra one, USA Basketball. And I’m good with all that. The coach has an auxiliary role, really, as compared to the players.

OlympicTalk: So you have three Olympic gold medals? What about when you were an assistant with the Dream Team in 1992?

Krzyzewski: I don’t have them from the Dream Team in 1992, but I do from Beijing, London and Rio, the teams that I [head] coached.

OlympicTalk: Say Olympic rosters were 13 players instead of 12. Who would you add to any of the 2008, 2012 or 2016 Olympic teams?

Krzyzewski: I would have liked to have LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] for the 2016 team in Rio. But for those guys to make the commitments they do, after playing over 100 games for the year, is phenomenal. To get Carmelo Anthony, who did it three times, LeBron and Chris Paul twice, Kevin Durant twice and also a world championship, it’s an incredible commitment by all those guys.

Editor’s Note: Anthony and James also played for Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics, where the U.S. took bronze. Bryant removed himself from Rio consideration in January 2016, his farewell NBA season, to give a younger star an opportunity at a gold medal. James passed on the Rio Olympics, citing the need for rest after winning the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a decision Krzyzewski respected. James said in January 2017 that Gregg Popovich succeeding Krzyzewski as Olympic head coach in 2020 “factors a lot” in whether he’ll want to play. James has called Popovich “the greatest coach of all time.” Krzyzewski is staying on with USA Basketball in an advisory role.

OlympicTalk: Do you think LeBron will play for Gregg Popovich at Tokyo 2020?

Krzyzewski: I don’t know. You know what, once you served, it’s a big thing to serve again. We should not put any pressure on those guys to serve again. However, if they want to, our arms are open wide to hug them. But Pop will do an amazing job.

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MORE: USA Basketball names Olympic men’s player pool

Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

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Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again, detailing her reaction to being left off the Rio Olympic team nearly two years ago.

“This is the first time I’ve spoke on this,” Parker said on an SMYF podcast published Sunday. “I’m not playing USA Basketball anymore.

“I’m one of those people. Once it’s done, it’s done.”

Parker was surprisingly left off the 12-woman Olympic roster for Rio after being a key player on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal teams.

Asked if the omission was due to politics or an “intentional snub,” Parker detailed her commitment to USA Basketball playing through injuries from before her freshman year at the University of Tennessee through the 2012 Olympics. Plus, taking time away from her daughter to play on an October 2015 European tour one week after her Los Angeles Sparks were eliminated from the WNBA Playoffs.

“If it wasn’t going to be my play that made the final decision [on the Olympic roster]. If it wasn’t going to be my performance on the court, don’t have me do that,” she said of the European tour and Rio Olympic promotions. “It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads-up that you might not make the team, and then I could choose. … I was hurt because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries, given so many hours to USA Basketball, and then in one fell swoop they can just be like, it doesn’t matter about your play, you’re just not on the team.”

Parker’s place on the Rio team was in jeopardy after she missed both the 2014 World Championship (knee injury) and a February 2016 training camp (overseas club commitment), the last camp before the Olympic team would be named, combined with an influx of bigs since the London Games.

“We don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publicly,” USA Basketball director Carol Callan said after the 2016 team was announced. “Needless to say there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. … What it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. … We’re looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that three-four position that is the strength of our team. We appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make.”

Since Rio, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma stepped down (as expected after two Games), and Dawn Staley succeeded him. Auriemma was not on the selection committee for the 2016 Olympic team. Parker said that even if the whole USA Basketball administration changed, she would not be interested in playing for the U.S. again.

“I think Dawn Staley is an amazing coach. She’s awesome. I wish I could have played for her,” Parker said. “It has nothing to do with her, but for me, mentally, I wouldn’t be able to represent USA Basketball anymore.

“I jokingly said [8-year-old daughter] Lailaa was going to get a passport and play for another team, but that’ll be her decision,” Parker said with a laugh. “I can’t put that on her.

“I was more upset about not being able to share the [Olympic] experience with my daughter. That would be the Olympics that she would have remembered.”

Parker was not among 29 players named to the initial U.S. national basketball team player pool for the 2020 Olympic cycle in December. Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020, so the door is not completely shut on anyone.

Callan declined to say whether Parker declined an invitation to the national team.

“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan said in December. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”

Parker said last May, two months after Staley’s hiring, that she didn’t know if she would play for the U.S. again and had not thought about it.

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MORE: James, Durant, Curry headline U.S. men’s player pool

Clarification: A previous version of this post did not include the name of the podcast with Parker’s quotes. Upon request, the name was added.

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball