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Bryant Likes Krzyzewski as Olympic Coach

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Times Staff Writers

With Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski poised to be named coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant responded with enthusiasm Wednesday.

“That’s cool,” Bryant said. “I’ve been looking forward to playing in the next Olympics, if I’m fortunate enough to be selected and if I stay healthy.

“It’s a sense of pride. This is our sport. Us Americans really don’t like being second in anything. That competitive streak comes out.”

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Actually, the Americans were third in Athens, competing with a roster that did not include Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby or Jermaine O’Neal after they declined or withdrew because of lack of interest, injury -- or, in Bryant’s case, the possibility of a sexual assault trial. The charges were later dropped.

The selection of Krzyzewski, which still must be formally approved by USA Basketball’s executive committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee, is a major step in the reconstruction project at USA Basketball.

Since finishing sixth in the 2002 world championships and third at the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball has overhauled the oversight of the men’s senior national team, naming Phoenix Sun chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo to the new position of managing director.

Krzyzewski, who also would coach the U.S. team in the 2006 world championships and in the Olympic qualifying tournament if necessary, would be the first college coach to guide the U.S. Olympic team since NBA players began competing in 1992.

An assistant to Chuck Daly on that team, Krzyzewski was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but he signaled his interest in the Olympic job this summer, analyzing the U.S. team’s recent struggles and calling it “a great honor” to be considered.

“If you’re chosen, it’s a duty,” said Krzyzewski, who has led Duke to three NCAA titles.

The selection of Krzyzewski, first reported by USA Today on Wednesday, was confirmed Wednesday by advisors to Colangelo, who oversees a panel that includes Dave Gavitt, who once tried to hire Krzyzewski as coach of the Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76er General Manager Billy King, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke.

Colangelo declined to confirm the choice until it is formally approved and a contract is in place, saying Wednesday “there is a process.”

“Have I made up my mind? Yes, I have,” Colangelo said. “There will be a press conference in a couple of weeks and we’ll go from there.”

Colangelo denied a published report that Krzyzewski might take a year off from Duke while coaching the U.S. team.

“In conversations with Coach Krzyzewski, since he is one of the candidates, that’s never been a topic of conversation,” he said.

Val Ackerman, the former WNBA commissioner who is now president of USA Basketball, emphasized the Olympic coaching job is a three-year commitment, including the 2006 world championships.

“I think we feel fortunate that it looks like we have someone who not only will do a great job on the court representing USA Basketball in a very professional way and help us with the job not only of winning in ’06 and ‘08, but also restoring the pride to the program everyone has come to expect from our senior men’s team,” she said.

The possibility of Bryant playing for Krzyzewski has arisen twice before -- when Krzyzewski tried to recruit Bryant to Duke out of high school and again when Krzyzewski turned down an opportunity to coach Bryant and the Lakers in 2004.

Now, the bigger task would be something Krzyzewski is used to: recruiting.

USA Basketball will be asking NBA stars to make an even larger commitment than the one many All-Stars passed on last time.

Colangelo said he hopes to name a core group to the national team roster by the end of the year.

“I spoke to two and asked two, and two said yes,” Colangelo said.

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