Jerry Colangelo Reflects On 2014: 'The Stars Were Aligned'
USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo sat down recently with USAB.com to discuss a wide range of topics, including the organization’s success in 2014 and overall change in culture since hiring Mike Krzyzewski to be head coach of the Men’s National Team in 2005. The following is an excerpt of that interview:
You became actively involved in USA Basketball in 2005. Now with 10 summers of competitions behind you, how would you evaluate those 10 years and what memories come to mind?
When I think about the last decade, the period of time I’ve been involved with USA Basketball, I have a lot of thoughts regarding where we were, what we became, and where we are today. It’s been a journey that has taken USA Basketball from a very low point in its existence to the very, very top of the game. And it’s something we’re very, very proud of and something we would hope to continue with.
2014 was another great summer for the USA men's and women's teams as they won the men’s FIBA World Cup and FIBA World Championship for Women titles, and also won the men’s and women’s FIBA U17 World Championship, FIBA Americas U18 Championships and even won FIBA 3x3 Women’s World Championship and Women’s Youth Olympic Games gold medals. Can you reflect on the success USA Basketball enjoyed in 2014 and is there any moment you're more proud of more than others?
2014 was a year where everything came together, the stars were aligned. We rolled the table, if you will, in terms of winning at every level. All our junior teams, the senior teams -- men and women – had a fantastic summer, and it couldn’t be any better when you think about the accomplishments. Something that many people were involved in. We’re very excited about how strong our system is right now. When taking over USA Basketball, originally the whole thought process was to build infrastructure to get through any changes in management, coaching, or anything like that. A system that would just be perpetual. We’ve done a great deal in those 10 years, and it’s shown in the results. What’s happening with USA Basketball today is an incredible story.
When you were named managing director of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team in 2005, USA men’s teams were struggling, especially at the senior national level, where they had finished 5-3 and with a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and 6-3 and in 6th place at the 2002 FIBA World Championship. What was your motivation to become involved and did the job prove to be a bigger undertaking than you expected?
When asked to take over USA Basketball, it rang my bell, because it’s a game that I’m in love with. It definitely is my passion. When you have a chance to address a problem, turn a program around, it’s a challenge. So it was something that I was ready to accept, because it was immediately after divesting myself of ownership interest in the NBA Phoenix Suns and Major League Baseball Arizona Diamondbacks, so I was ready, I was available, and looked forward to the challenge.
While developing and establishing your new model for the USA Men’s National Team, was there anything that really surprised you?
I was surprised by the status that USA Basketball had back in 2005 around the world, and it indicated to me that we needed to truly change the culture, that we had to show respect to the world basketball community and in return earn back respect we had lost during that time. That was something that was formidable. We had some hills to overcome, and we did. Over a period of time we’ve earned back respect. We’ve shown respect, and that’s how you earn it, and I think that’s the reason we are held in the esteem we are held today. We don’t take it for granted. We are humble about that, and it’s important to always remember it’s important to be humble.
You touched on the cultural change, how did you achieve that? What was the starting point and what were some of important goals you felt really had to be incorporated into the national team program?
I think by being very transparent in the world basketball community, and indicating that we had a lot of work to do. We did not look at ourselves as someone living in an ivory tower. We were very complimentary about other national programs and their success, be it Argentina, Brazil, Spain, just to name a few. France. We were impressed by much of what they had done, and in fact we learned a great deal from them. And in being transparent, what we did was let them know that they were doing some things better than we were. So we recognized it and realized that we had to adopt some of their policies. And we did. I think the national team concept of creating a player pool was a byproduct of what I just outlined, and that has proven to be very, very important to our success.
Part of the change within USA Basketball was getting the top players and coaches back involved at the national level, which also then seemed to get them involved in the junior levels. What do you attribute that to?
I think the people that were involved in this startup – I’ll call it a startup back in ’05 because we were starting over with USA Basketball – we needed to have people involved, including myself, that were respected by players in the NBA by way of example. So that in meeting with players there was a built-in respect, a mutual respect that worked both ways. And in outlining the game plan and discussing my personal commitment and passion for what was about to take place, I gave them an opportunity to join with me, and they did. Once it started to snowball, it became the “in” thing to do. Players wanted to become part of this new USA Basketball program, with some definite commitments on the part of the players over a period of years in order to bring back the success that we were seeking.
Continuity has also been a key ingredient in the success formula for both the men’s and women’s teams. Why is that so important?
If you look at the history of successful franchises in sports, regardless of the sport – NFL, MLB, NBA – the organizations that have had continuity, consistency in terms of management and coaching have been the franchises that have been successful over a long period of time. In the NBA, you can look at San Antonio under (Gregg) Popovich, their coach and basketball guy, if you will. They’ve had great consistency, great success over that period of time. And so in our selection proves, in selecting Coach K as our (men’s) coach, the guy I wanted to have alongside me, he fit the bill to a T. His leadership qualities, his Hall of Fame status, his ability to relate to players – the trust factor. Players have always trusted him. He was the perfect guy in my mind for the job. Him being at the helm for these years, in the last decade, have proven to be maybe one of the best decisions that were made of all of them.