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Coach K, Let Team USA Be Great

Save the lectures on decorum for the college kids

AP Images
AP Images

“We had a little bit too much fun out there tonight,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Team USA’s 107–57 win over China on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. “We have to tone that down a little bit.”

With the fourth quarter winding down and Team USA up 47, DeMar DeRozan steamed down the left sideline and attempted a 360 dunk with a defender at the rim and missed, narrowly avoiding the start of World War III. Kevin Durant left the bench and sprinted down the baseline to turn pirouettes underneath the hoop in celebration any damn way, earning himself a technical in the process.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that DEMAR DEROZAN ATTEMPTED TO POSTER SOMEONE WITH A 360 DUNK DURING A GAME.

Sorry for yelling, but that’s what happens when you’re capable of feeling things. It’s unclear if Coach K is.

The Duke legend’s affinity for Hallmark-brand sportsmanship is well-known. There are plenty of receipts. Remember earlier this year when Oregon’s Dillon Brooks sank a trey from YOLO range in a Sweet 16 game against Duke? Remember how Brooks let out an incredibly reserved fist-pump and Coach K gave him a lecture after the game (which Duke lost) about how he was too good a player to be showing off? Now he’s doing that same thing to an entire team of grown men with their own signature shoes, soft drinks, and exorbitant paychecks.

With just over a minute and a half left in the game against China, Klay Thompson hit a 3 from Berkeley. Naturally, Durant, DeAndre Jordan, and Paul George all found this feat to be exciting and worth freaking out over, and sprang off the bench to do so, which was a totally proportionate response. Coach K immediately put the kibosh on all of this reckless fun-having, demanding his players sit down.

Coach K’s comment was kind of understandable this time. While Team USA has won its exhibition games by an average margin of just over 45 points, its looseness with the ball has gotten progressively worse with each outing. Team USA turned the ball over 12 times in the first game, 13 in the second, and 16 against China on Tuesday night. Team USA is going to face stiffer competition in Rio, and if it doesn’t want to wind up coming up short — as in coming back with anything less than a gold medal — it’s going to have to play a little tighter. While this is the oldest team since 2000 (!), the bulk of this 2016 squad hasn’t represented internationally at the senior level before, so there aren’t many seasoned players who’ve “been there” to remind the others to make the extra rotation and tuck in their shirts and get to bed on time. As a result, reining in all this callow exuberance falls almost squarely on Coach K’s shoulders — because Draymond Green sure as hell isn’t telling anyone to temper themselves.

On the other hand, who isn’t trying to watch a month’s worth of dancing and intrasquad dunk contests? If so, who are you, and why are you like that? Where would we be now, as a people, as a nation, as humans, if Vince Carter had decided to do what logic dictated and dump off a pass to Kevin Garnett instead of dunking on the entire country of France in 2000? Or if the Dream Team didn’t apply a full-court press on Angola when it was already up by 41 points in 1992? The point is, taking your foot off of the gas in service of some bizarro understanding of humility doesn’t yield a whole lot of timeless moments. Coach K is chasing excellence with buttoned-up decorum; the players on his roster are chasing immortality. With Olympic gold still theirs to lose, the Americans have a chance at that kind of legendary status — and they have the opportunity to have fun while pursuing it.

So, “tone that down”? Nah, B. Tone that shit all the way up.