DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA – Mike Krzyzewski says his side job as coach of U.S. national team does not give him an unfair advantage at Duke.
Krzyzewski met with media in Durham on Thursday for the first time since leading the Americans to the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
He fired back at critics who have suggested he uses his connections to the U.S. team for self-serving reasons with the Blue Devils.
He says any advantage gained is “an advantage through accomplishment” and adds that coaching the U.S. team cost him about 50 days during the college recruiting period.
He acknowledged he and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, his assistant with the U.S. team, have “a certain amount of notoriety” because of their longevity, but added, “what are we supposed to do, lose?”
That wasn’t all that bothered Krzyzewski.
Without being asked, he also took exception to critical comments about a photograph of him visiting Paul George in a hospital after the Indiana Pacers star suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his right leg during a U.S. team scrimmage.
The Duke coach said he was unaware that one of George’s family members snapped the picture of Krzyzewski hugging the bedridden player.
“If you think (Kryzewski staged the photo), then you are a bad person,” the coach said. “That was done secretly, and for someone to put it out the other way, boy, you’re really reaching.”
Krzyzewski helped the Americans repeat as world champions for the first time earlier this week, beating Serbia 129-92 in the final on Sunday.
He got back to Durham on Monday and conducted a workout with the Blue Devils the following day.
He said this Duke team will enter the start of practice almost entirely healthy in a couple of weeks, with forward Amile Jefferson the only injured player. Krzyzewski said Jefferson is about 95 percent healed from a hip injury that has temporarily cost him some explosion in his legs, but should be fine by the time the season starts.
Duke will be dominated by a four-man freshman class led by big man Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones, shooting guard Grayson Allen and forward Justise Winslow.
How the Blue Devils mesh with a solid core of returners — including Jefferson and guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon — will go a long way toward determining whether this will be a Final Four contender or a candidate to be knocked out of the NCAA tournament early like this past year, when they were upset by Mercer in their opener.
“With our team right now, it’s not sophomores, freshmen, juniors, seniors — they’re Duke basketball players,” Krzyzewski said. “The freshmen are not freshmen, they’re Duke basketball players and there’s not that differentiation. That doesn’t happen all the time . . . but with this group, it has.”