By Chris Gallagher
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – U.S. men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski ended his national team career on a high note as Team USA overpowered Serbia at the Rio Games for their third straight Olympic gold medal.
Sunday’s 96-66 victory capped off the most successful coaching career in men’s Olympic basketball history, with Krzyzewski becoming the first coach to lead three teams to gold.
Krzyzewski, 69, will hand the reins to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as he leaves Team USA after nearly 11 years and with a 24-0 record in the Olympics.
“I’ve been really a lucky guy, collegiately and internationally to be part of championship teams,” said Krzyzewski, commonly called “Coach K.”
“I’m just proud of the fact that Jerry Colangelo when he took over, he gave me an opportunity,” said Krzyzewski, who modestly deflected any credit for his success and instead praised veterans like team captain Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.
The U.S. men have long been an unstoppable force, taking gold in 15 of the 18 Olympics in which they have participated. But an embarrassing three losses and bronze at the 2004 Athens Games prompted an overhaul and the hiring of Krzyzewski by USA Basketball managing director Colangelo.
The results could not have been better.
Since he came on board in 2005 his teams have gone an incredible 88-1 with the only loss coming to Greece in the 2006 World Championships.
He has guided the United States to Olympic gold in 2008, 2012 and now 2016, as well as world titles in 2010 and 2014.
Anthony, who is hanging up his sneakers after 12 years with the national team, is the only player to have been coached by Krzyzewski in three Olympics.
“To be alongside Coach K, he sacrificed so much of his time, his family, coming from a collegiate level instilling his trust into NBA players and being the face of USA basketball. I just want to say thanks for that,” said the New York Knicks forward.
Krzyzewski, who will continue coaching at powerhouse Duke University, is confident USA basketball will continue to thrive, especially with Popovich, five times NBA champion as Spurs head coach, set to take over.
“You have the best guy in the world to coach the team now. That says a lot for the program that’s been developed,” Krzyzewski said.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)