- The Season's Over -

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (Part 1)

September 17, 2008

Is Mike Krzyzewski getting too much credit for Team USA's success?

Mike Krzyzewski Photo Credit: Icon SMI

We have a real treat for you today, loyal readers and NBA fans.

There are few NBA writers we hold in higher regard than Mr. Adrian Wojnarowski, the backbone of Yahoo! Sports’ excellent NBA coverage. He also just happens to be the author of the New York Times bestseller The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty, which is being made into a major motion picture. (Buy the book on Amazon.)

We’ve broken Wojnarowski’s interview into two parts, with Part 1 focusing on his thoughts and experiences from Beijing in covering Team USA’s run to gold-medal redemption. Part 2 will follow tomorrow, and boy howdy is it ever juicy–don’t miss it. Without further ado, we welcome Adrian Wojnarowski as the latest subject of our ongoing Scribes of the NBA Interview Series.

Empty the Bench: You spent a few weeks in Beijing for the Olympics. In covering the U.S. team as they played and lived in a much different environment than what they’re accustomed to, what did you learn about a few players on the U.S. team and their personalities, skills, etc. that was surprising?

Adrian Wojnarowski: Spending a lot of time around that team mostly reinforced some things that I already believed about the players. Here are a few:

Kobe Bryant is calculating, smart, and maybe the league’s most ‘aware’ player of circumstances, surroundings, and angles. LeBron James doesn’t like when things aren’t all about him. Dwyane Wade is never too impressed with himself. Carmelo Anthony will always tell you the truth.

To me, the biggest surprise was how much credit that people wanted to give Mike Krzyzewski for this team. The least surprising? The fact that he has already sold another ‘motivational’ book that will detail his leadership of the gold-medal winning team.

As one NBA GM said to me, “I guess K didn’t have time to do a book after ’06.” Those were the world championships when Krzyzewski couldn’t make an adjustment to stop the Greece pick and roll and didn’t prepare enough to know the names of the Greek players. The insistence after that semifinal loss was that the team was too young and too inexperienced. They had enough to win in ’06, but obviously they were much better by ’08. Still, putting that loss in the Worlds on the players was typical of the college coaching establishment. They want the credit when it goes well, and none of the blame when it doesn’t.

Krzyzewski said it himself: This was an easy team to coach. It really was. They were motivated. They were focused. They were determined to be unselfish. The biggest thing of all was this is that they had been together for most of 3 years. He had the best talent. The best preparation time. And to his credit, he made the most of it.

But I’ve been around that program enough the past two years to know this: The leadership on this team came primarily from two places: Jerry Colangelo and Jason Kidd/Kobe Bryant. Listen, Colangelo gave Coach K an excess of talent, and he still needed every last superstar—Kobe, Wade, LeBron, etc.—to beat Spain in that gold medal game. It’s kind of typical of the college culture and its enablers to make sure the coach gets all the credit.

Jerry Colangelo and the USA Basketball staff—which includes behind-the-scenes guys like Jim Tooley and Sean Ford—gave this national team the structure it needed to succeed. Colangelo convinced everyone that for a true national program, Team USA needed to turn to a true European model. David Stern gets a lot of credit, too, because he gave Colangelo the resources and autonomy to make this work.

Yet, understand this: mostly, they had great, great players. A-list NBA stars. The B-list guys won’t do it anymore. Unlike in college, they don’t let the coach stand on the ladder and cut down the nets. In the pros and the Olympics, they know the truth: you win with the players.

More on the Team USA Olympics experience from Adrian Wojnarowski after the break…

ETB: Which players do you think will benefit most from their experience playing with the U.S. team this summer? Has it been a detriment to anybody’s development? For example, it looks like Dwight Howard still hasn’t worked on any go-to moves in the post beyond the dunk.

Wojnarowski: Colangelo and I talked a lot about this over the summer. This program will make the NBA a better league. I think the experience taught these guys a lot of things. For guys like Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer, they found out what it’s like to not be a star for the first time, to sit on the bench and hope they’ll get a chance to play. I think that gives those guys more empathy and understanding of teammates on the Jazz and Bucks, for example. That’s a perspective All-Stars don’t often get in the league.

Colangelo believes that Krzyzewski’s teaching will actually make these players better. I think the players learned far more from each other though. To think that Dwight Howard is getting something that Stan Van Gundy and Patrick Ewing couldn’t give him? I’m not buying that. There are always exceptions, I know, but far, far more quality coaching goes on in the NBA than NCAA. As you might have noticed, NBA coaches don’t have to fill out their staffs with AAU coaches to bring in recruits.

Chris Paul flaunted his leadership skills during the Beijing Olympics

There’s never been much of a correlation between a Duke apprenticeship and NBA success. The great pros out of Duke—namely Grant Hill and Elton Brand—would’ve been terrific NBA players had they gone to, say, Medaille College. What’s more, the Team USA guys watched how true superstars like Wade, LeBron, and Kobe gave of their games for the greater good of the team. They saw how hard the great ones worked at it.

To me, Chris Paul’s growth has a leader has really been measurable as part of Team USA. That’s true with Howard and Bosh, too. In fact, the Olympics left you thinking that Bosh could be the most underrated talent in the league. If nothing else, Anthony’s game is incredibly tailored for international basketball. And I really hope it’s the case with ‘Melo. He’s needed this more than anyone.

ETB: What was your most memorable non-sports experience of the Beijing Olympics?

Wojnarowski: I’d say my most memorable experience in China was the arrival of the Internet traffic scores that reported the historic gulf in users and readership between Yahoo! Sports and the rest of our competitors. (Ed note: zing!)

Part 2 to follow…

Recommended Team USA Columns by Adrian Wojnarowski:

- Team USA Finds Redemption is Golden
- Kobe Turns a Year Older, A Decade Wiser
- Olympic Glory Too High a Cost for NBA
- In New Russia, Basketball is Progressive

More from ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series:

- J.E. Skeets of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie
- David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout
- Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7
- Ryne “Odenized” Nelson of SLAMonline
- Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and FanHouse
- Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops
- Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge
- Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold
- Brian Powell of Awful Announcing
- Lee Grammier of The Dream Shake
- Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead
- Scott Carefoot of Raptor Blog
- Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 1
- Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 2
- Matt Watson of AOL FanHouse and Detroit Bad Boys
- Natalie Sitto of Need4Sheed.com

Chris Paul Photo Credit: Icon SMI

16 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 17, 2008 at 9:48 am in Interviews, NBA

16 Responses

Great interview. Can’t wait to read part 2.

Posted by: Brandon Hoffman on September 17th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Interesting stuff, especially how the players come across. The criticism of K seems fair in some respects (e.g., the book and the idea that college coaches are better teachers than NBA coaches), but I have two questions: 1) Didn’t Larry Brown blame the players when they lost and take the credit when they won? Doesn’t George Karl do that every game? So … is that really a college vs. NBA coaching difference? 2) Doesn’t the series of losses in this century under coaches like Brown make this a little like the Phil Jackson criticism? That is, “Oh, he wins because he has great players.” “But didn’t Del Harris have the same Lakers, and Doug Collins the same Bulls? [and Larry Brown functionally the same Team USA]” “Yeah, but he wins because he has great players, and he doesn’t deserve credit for it.”

Posted by: john on September 18th, 2008 at 2:06 pm

The potshots at Krzyzewski are strange. At every interview, K always made it about the players. And he’s the first coach to make that three year commitment, which when you consider it, actually is more harmful to a college coach who needs the summer to recruit. It’s no question that Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Paul, and Bosh won the gold medal, not Coach K, but Larry Brown showed that even if you have the most talented team, you still can’t win internationally anymore.

That Athens team wasn’t as terrible as everyone thinks. In fact, they had something this team didn’t: an actual post player (Duncan). And yet Brown’s team lost three games in a tournament. K’s team lost one game in three years of competition. They lost ONE game in THREE years. And that game they lost, a lot of it was due to weak point guard play from an underwhelming Kirk Hinrich and a baby Chris Paul. And with a grown up Paul (and big dose of D. Williams) they beat a very game Spanish team that has lots of experience playing the international game.

So what exactly is Wojnarowski’s problem? That Coach K is getting royalties off a book deal?

Posted by: Francis on September 19th, 2008 at 1:25 am

What is with the basketball press? I enjoyed the read, but any chance to bash Duke and Coach K is like some new rule in basketball journalism. Yeah, we should have been able to beat the Greeks in 2006, but in sports you can lose anytime.

They did shoot something like 67% and granted many were layups. Brandon Hoffman’s points about Larry Brown and George Karl were on the money. Spain played a great game in the Beijing gold medal game. Seems like American journalists can’t accept that other countries can play high level basketball. Kobe took over in the 4th quarter, which is what was needed.

Posted by: James Arnold on September 19th, 2008 at 5:37 am

Wojnarowski is an idiot.

Posted by: Wayne swanson on September 19th, 2008 at 8:25 am

Michael Redd understands what its like to ride the bench. He began his career on the bench in Milwaukee behind Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. Carlos Boozer, another 2nd rd pick. He too would understand what its like to feel unwanted and have to work for a guaranteed contract. I’m not sure what you were getting at with them not being empathetic towards their teammates. They should be the guys most likely on the team to understand. Everyone else on the team sans Tayshaun Prince was a starter right away in the NBA.

Posted by: Justin on September 19th, 2008 at 9:47 am

I agree that there is a lot of anti-K vibe here that is not needed.

-Something tells me that K’s book will include a pretty healthy section on the World’s in 2006. He has said that losing that tournament made it possible to win this one. I really admire Wojnarowski as a writer/journalist and am surprised that his research didn’t include transcripts of every post game press conference for Team USA where K took the blame every time. In addition, he didn’t discuss the Greek players by name because he didn’t want to insult them by mispronouncing them. That whole “he didn’t know the Greek players” story is so old, tired and false yet it keeps coming back. Besides, that game was the equivalent of Villanova/Georgetown in 85, Greece played perfect and the USA still almost won. Everyone talks about our inability to adjust to a basic pick and roll. When perfectly executed, it’s an unstoppable play, especially when the guys around the horn are dropping bank shot 3 pointers. That game was the equivalent of the priest in Caddyshack gunning for the course record in the driving rain – a divine performance.

-K’s strength is not Xs and Os…it’s motivation, teaching personal responsibility/accountability, and getting max effort out of his teams. I’m not saying he’s not strong on Xs and Os, but he’s no Pete Carrill. From what I heard from the players, he was widely praised for the things I mentioned above. That’s what the team needed, and he delivered it. Again, he never took the credit and always took the blame – read the post game press conference transcripts. When he talks, in interviews, about the team not being ready in 2006, he includes himself.

-Larry Brown and George Karl take too much of a beating for what happened in 2002 and 2004. While Brown especially didn’t help the situation by using the press to call players out, both were handed ad hoc rosters not stocked with A list talent. If they’d had the same commitment and system that K had to work with, I think they’d have had the chance to do as well.

Let’s go by what the players said about Coach K and ignore what everyone else said. All I know is that in the comments I read, they seemed to really enjoy him….even Chris Paul who had a poor initial relationship with him stemming from heated on court rivalry between Wake and Duke.

Posted by: Ted on September 19th, 2008 at 10:27 am

If Elton and Hill would have been stars no matter where they went to school, I’m sure Jordan and Bird and Carter and every other guy with a 40 inch vertical that went to UNC would have been stars, even if they have gone to Strayer University.

Posted by: basa on September 19th, 2008 at 10:45 am

you are a fucking idiot plain and simple….

Posted by: greg on September 19th, 2008 at 11:02 am

From the USA vs Greece post game:

Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski was also full of praise for the Europeans.

“Obviously the Greek team and their coaching staff did an amazing job today,” he said.

“Their offense beat our defense, and I take responsibility for that. We win and lose together, but in a loss a coach needs to take more responsibility than anyone else.”

Posted by: Ted on September 19th, 2008 at 11:03 am

We love to get comments guys, so keep ‘em coming.

A little perspective might be in order though: this was an informal interview that he was nice enough to do with a blog. Also, Adrian is a professional journalist who is paid to express his opinions on basketball, and sometimes that means giving criticism.

You may not agree with his opinion, but you have to at least give him credit for being honest about his views on this.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on September 19th, 2008 at 11:10 am

I have read no finer book in the past few year’s then Wojnarowski’s “Miracle of St Anthony”. I just think K is like nails on the chalkboard for a lot of print journalists – he rarely gives interviews yet he puts himself out there in commercials and with his leadership books. I think people are sick of him and it comes out in different ways…it’s just hard for fans of his to take.

Posted by: Ted on September 19th, 2008 at 11:35 am

He deserves no credit “for being honest” when his “opinions” are premised on factual misrepresentations. As a sports professional, he ought to have a grasp of basic facts, and not let his obviously hostile “opinons” on Coach K color the truth.

Nor does he deserve credit for honestly expressing nonsensical opinions like Hill and Brand would be NBA stars regardless of what college they attended. Not only is that baseless speculation, but I wonder what Brand and Hill would say if asked if their time at Duke helped them succeed. In any event, that same logic (and i use that term loosely) could be applied to just about every NBA star — each would have had NBA success regardless of which college they attended.

That interview is filled with unsubstantiated, thoughtless, off-the-cuff remarks cloaked as the opinions of a supposed professional who cannot refuse an opportunity to impose his personal biases on readers.

Posted by: tyson mather on September 19th, 2008 at 12:06 pm

1) If Team USA had not brought home the gold, who would you have blamed, Adrian?

2) No, Coach K did not have time to do a book after 2006. He was busy with his three year commitment to helping Team USA return to the top of the international basketball word.

3) Under Coach K, Team USA lost exactly one game in three years of play.

4) Where and when did Coach K blame his players for the loss to Greece, Adrian?

5) Adrian says college coaches want the credit when it goes well, but none of the blame when things go wrong. But he is obviously projecting. What he wants to do is give no credit to Coach K when things go well and all of the blame to him whenever things go wrong. When did Coach K shirk blame for a Team USA loss or take credit for a Team USA victory? Coach K’s own quotes that Adrian supplied show him crediting his players.

6) As for the supposed lack of correlation between a Duke apprenticeship and NBA success, how many college programs currently have a better group of NBA alumni than Brand, Boozer, Deng, Battier, Hill, Dunleavy, Maggette, Duhon, Williams, Redick, Jones, Randolph and McRoberts?

7) Finally, why did Kobe Bryant want Coach K to coach the Lakers, Adrian?

Posted by: stickdog on September 19th, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Who is Adrian Wojnarowski? Just someone who is trying to make a name by saying something controversial. That takes no talent. You can go on any of the sports website boards and find folks who don’t have anything to do but talk trash about someone else. Is that what they teach in Journalism School? The only reason folks don’t like Coach K is because he is extremely successful.

Do any of you remember the last years of Dean Smith’s tenure at UNC. The only folks who could stomach him were Carolina fans. No One else liked him at all. He was a know-it-all ass. But guess what. He really didn’t care what everyone else thought as long as he did things in what he considered the proper way. I sure that Coach K doesn’t care either.

It’s just a real shame that in this day and time, everyone feel obilgated to put down successful folks instead of giving them credit when they deserve it. Ask Jerry Colangelo if Coach K had anything to do with the team winning the Gold. Ask Kobe, Wade and Labron if Coach K did a good job. That’s the only opinions that make any difference.

Posted by: Clemman on September 19th, 2008 at 3:48 pm

I don’t understand how the anti-Coach K rant started. The interviewer asked what Wojnarowski found out about the players and their personalities that was surprising. He just hates coach K for some reason. And yeah, ask the players how good coach K was, don’t listen to this biased so-called journalist.

Posted by: jacked on September 19th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

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