Gut-wrenching decision paid off

Published 9:52 am Thursday, July 30, 2009

I have said it before and I will say it again, I am a Tar Heel. I have never concealed my love for all things UNC and my choice to bleed Carolina blue has been nothing but a blessing in my life.

All of that changed in 2005 when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo hired Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to lead the national team. My devotion to the Tar Heels and requisite hatred for all things Dookie put me in awkward and uncharted territory.

How could I root for a coach I had written such bad things about in this very column (and said much worse things about in private)? How could I look myself in the mirror and live with myself if I chose to support coach Krzyzewski? How could I look my fellow Carolina brethren in the eye and not feel ashamed?

At the same time this was not my team that Krzyzewski had been asked to coach, this was our team…America’s team. This team would not be playing against the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), they would instead be playing the rest of the world. They would not be representing the University of New Jersey – South, the over-privileged youth of America or all that is wrong with college athletics (sorry, my passion tends to create exaggeration).

This Krzyzewski-led team would instead be representing our country, our state, our community, us….me.

I couldn’t have possibly been expected to root against myself. I chose instead to do the unthinkable. I rooted for, not against Mike Krzyzewski. I’m sure there are other Tar Heels out there who were forced to make the same gut-wrenching decision. If any of you are reading this, know that you are not alone. I understand your plight.

In retrospect it is easy to admit that Colangelo’s hiring of Krzyzewski was absolutely the right thing to do. Krzyzewski’s management of this country’s best basketball talent and its biggest egos was masterful. Team USA not only won the gold medal last year in Beijing, they blew out the competition in a way reminiscent of the Chuck Daly coached Dream Team.

Not a bad comparison given that the original and only Dream Team was inarguably the greatest collection of basketball talent (plus Christian Laettner) ever assembled.

A few weeks ago Colangelo made another great decision and convinced Krzyzewski to return to the helm and lead the United States in next summer’s world championships and the 2012 Olympics in London. Accompanying Krzyzewski will be the Knick’s head coach and fast break guru Mike D’Antoni, close friend Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Chowan alumnus and Portland skipper Nate McMillan.

While players have yet to be chosen for the team, it is sure to yet again boast an impressive roster of America’s best talent. While much of that can be credited to pride and patriotism, some of it must be credited to Krzyzewski’s return. The on-court leaders of last year’s squad, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade raved about their experience playing for Krzyzewski. Their return may now be more likely given the opportunity to reunite with Coach K.

As for me, it looks like three more years of part-time Krzyzewski supporting. As horrible as it may be to admit, when a coach that good is coaching for you and not against you, rooting for him isn’t nearly as hard as previously thought. Now if you will excuse me I think I’m going to be sick.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School

graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at