Jerry Colangelo talks Team USA, LeBron and post-Coach K era

CARMEL, Calif. – With Clint Eastwood’s mammoth mansion looming far in the background, USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo on Wednesday took some time at Tehama Golf Club to discuss his future and the state of Team USA, among a variety of topics.

The following is a Q&A with the 75-year-old Colangelo, who remains as passionate as ever about his commitment to USA Basketball.

Q: Do you expect LeBron James to be playing for USA in the Olympics next year?

Mike Krzyzewski, Jerry Colangelo and Jim Boeheim talk during a Team USA practice session. (Getty)
Mike Krzyzewski, Jerry Colangelo and Jim Boeheim talk during a Team USA practice session. (Getty)

Colangelo: He is one of the greatest players of all time. If he wants to be on the team, how is he not going to be on the team? It’s really not my call. It’s really his call. If that is still important to him and what he wants to do, I truly believe that’s what he wants, than he will be there.

Q: Has James said he will be playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: I think he is intent on wanting to play for USA Basketball and be in the Olympics next year.

Q: Paul George broke his leg playing in an exhibition game for USA Basketball last offseason and it appeared (Team USA) might be in jeopardy of losing players. Today, however, all the top American players appear interested in playing in the Olympics. How do you reflect back on George and the aftermath?

Colangelo: Anytime anyone gets hurt, it’s sad. It’s the first time anyone has gotten hurt since I took over USA Basketball. That was a devastating injury, more importantly to Paul George than anyone else. It was a freakish thing to take place. It had such an impact on everyone emotionally, we canceled the rest of the game.

He’s never wavered on wanting to be a part of USA Basketball going forward. It did not serve as a deterrent to him or anyone else. For the most part, players do understand that injuries are part of the game. If you’re a basketball player, you understand injuries do take place in pickup games on playgrounds and in gyms, even in supervised situations. One thing we’ve prided ourselves on is really taking care of our players. We don’t overwork them. We don’t overplay them.

Q: What will it mean to see George playing at the first mini-camp practice?

Colangelo: It will be great to see him in a USA uniform. With as little as we are going to do, it’s going to be a great way to come back. It’s not a competitive camp. Really, it’s a show and a sign that you’re interested in USA Basketball and wanting to continue to represent your country in 2016.

Q: How do you reflect on Kevin Durant and Kevin Love making a big public commitment to play on the 2014 World Cup team and then reneging on it?

Colangelo: In Kevin Love’s case, he really felt bad in not being there to participate after he said he would. That was more about advice he’s getting from legal counsel and his agent. That, too, is a variable. We have no control over that. If that happens next year with one or two players and they’re out, it’s not the end of the world. We have other players. The point is with the roster we have we can take hits like that and there are other guys to step in.

Kevin Durant, a little bit of a different story. I think he was affected some by Paul George’s injury. I also think a lot of things were going on with Kevin Durant with his career and his contract. Things were changing. He wasn’t the same Kevin Durant who was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed when he first stepped on to the court for USA Basketball. He had a lot going on in his life. So when he said he was going to pull out, I wasn’t surprised. I could kind of see it coming. I didn’t see the same vigor. He was always so active and positive. He had a different look to him.

Damian Lillard was disappointed about being cut from the World Cup team last year. (Getty)
Damian Lillard was disappointed about being cut from the World Cup team last year. (Getty)

Q: Damian Lillard was very disappointed about being cut from the World Cup team last year and declined an invite to the upcoming mini-camp. What are your thoughts on Lillard?

Colangelo: I understand his disappointment. He’s a great player. For whatever reason, the times he’s been with us he just hasn’t played as well as he’s capable of playing. That happens to be at a position where we are overloaded. There is no question about that. And so that’s not a knock on him. I have a great respect for him as a player and through the course of an NBA season, he shows how great he is.

The fact that he wasn’t selected really hurt him. He was extended an invitation, but I don’t think he’s coming.

Q: USA Basketball last lost in the 2006 FIBA World Championship to Greece. What do you remember about that?

Colangelo: I come from my seat and (coach Mike Krzyzewski) is apologizing to me, he felt so bad. I said, "Coach, come on, it’s not your fault what took place." I saw what happened. We took it extremely hard. A whole year went by and I refused to look at the videotape of the game. I didn’t want to see it. I remembered it, but I didn’t want to see it.

I was on a plane with (men's national team director) Sean Ford and we were headed to China to see it before the Olympics to get a lay of the land, of where we were going to practice and stay. He says to me, “We have got a long flight. You want to watch the tape?” I said, “I don’t want to watch the tape. I don’t want to get aggravated.” Finally I said, “OK, I will watch the tape.” So he puts the tape in, I re-live it and when it was over with I wanted to bust out of the plane I was so upset. But it was a good lesson early on and you don’t forget those moments like that good, bad or indifferent.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

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