ISTANBUL – Once Mike Krzyzewski agreed to return as coach of the U.S. national team, Jerry Colangelo figured most of his staff would follow.
Jim Boeheim was the one mystery to him.
"'Jim, how you feeling about coming back?'" Colangelo recalled asking. "Because I wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to. He said, 'What the hell else would I do?'"
With that, the Americans were ensured of having continuity on the bench, a huge advantage for a young, largely inexperienced team that reached the quarterfinals at the world championships without a loss and an average margin of victory of almost 30 points.
"You need to have stability starting at the top," said Colangelo, USA Basketball's chairman. "If you started with a new group each time you had an international competition like it used to be, that's a tremendous disadvantage for us and a big advantage for anyone we go against."
Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Nate McMillan and Mike D'Antoni committed to three years with the national team, a tenure that was to end with the 2008 Olympics. Instead, they all signed on again, though D'Antoni isn't in Turkey, having pulled out to rest an ailing back before the NBA season. He was replaced for this tournament by Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano, who once led the Canadian national team and has spent the last few years coaching with USA Basketball.
Boeheim, whose one national championship at Syracuse is three behind Krzyzewski's total at Duke, said he never would have declined once "Coach K" let everyone know he would be back. They expected to be coaching many of the same players who won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, but they all eventually decided to take the summer off.
"We had a great time doing it, really great experience and I think the good thing about this year, it's kind of been so different that it's been good," Boeheim said. "I wouldn't have minded having the same guys back, but I think having these guys, it's been a new team, kind of new look, new challenge. I think it's been interesting and kind of a different experience, but a good one."
The Olympic team was a veteran group, and all 12 players had competed for the U.S. during one of the previous two summers. This time, the Americans sent five 21-year-olds to Turkey, and Krzyzewski realized during one recent practice while talking to Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook that some of his Duke players are the same age.
Because of that youth, he said there's been "a lot more coaching" this time than during the previous three years the staff was together.
"Not too much where you get in the way of their talent," Krzyzewski said, "but enough to where you see how they can improve and playing in this competition can make them better players."
The decision to return was a little tougher for McMillan, who is entering the last season of his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers and thought his focus needed to be on the NBA team. But like Krzyzewski and Colangelo, he wanted the world title that eluded the Americans in their first year together.
"We thought that we were going to move on, but we didn't win this championship," McMillan said. "This is the one that we lost. So for me, talking to Coach K and Mr. Colangelo, it was about really coming back, representing and winning this. We want to win this championship."
The coaching staff was still learning the international game four years ago in Japan, and never could come up with a solution to stop Greece's pick-and-rolls in its upset of the Americans in the semifinals.
They have shown how much they learned a couple of times this summer. They switched to a zone, which Boeheim has employed for years at Syracuse, to confuse Spain on its final possession and pull out an 86-85 exhibition win in Madrid. During a group play game here, the Americans switched their defensive strategy against the pick-and-roll after Brazil used it to build a halftime lead, and the U.S. rallied for a 70-68 victory.
Center Tyson Chandler is one of the few U.S. veterans, playing on the 2007 team that won the Olympic qualifying tournament. He sees the differences in the coaches' approach now, particularly Krzyzewski's.
"On that team you had a lot more veterans, so Coach kind of just managed us," he said. "But we knew how to communicate with each other, we knew what was expected. We kind of knew what it took.
"In this case, Coach has to be a lot more vocal. He has to explain things a lot more, he has to explain what we're trying to accomplish, what our goals are, how we have to approach the game. So it's been a lot more coaching than he did when I was there in '07."
Though aware of the commitment coaching in the summer takes, Krzyzewski wasn't surprised his whole staff agreed to return "because of how good of guys they are." He particularly appreciates the NBA coaches who agree to work under a college counterpart, thanking McMillan and Triano during a recent team meal.
"Their season is longer than mine," Krzyzewski said. "I think it takes a special guy to do that, a pro coach to give up his time to do this, and we're lucky that we have that continuity."