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Popovich was easy, best call to take over USA Basketball

“All roads led to Pop. It’s as simple as that.”

That was how USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo described the decision to make Spurs coach Gregg Popovich the next head coach of USA Basketball. He will take over for Mike Krzyzewski after the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

It was that simple. Other guys could do a good job, but there was not another Popovich on the list.

“Why is that?” Colangelo continued, posing a question to himself at a televised press conference in San Antonio Friday. “It’s because of who he is, his character, his leadership, he’s a winner, his self-sacrificing attitude in terms of being a military guy, he’s respected by everyone in the basketball world.”

There was no doubt — not even among other NBA coaches who might have had their eye on the job — that Popovich should get the first call from USA Basketball. I think there are three main criteria needed to be an effective Team USA coach — be someone the elite players will sign up to play for, be familiar with the International game and its nuances, be someone who can rise above the petty politics of agents and shoe companies — and nobody checks those boxes as well as Popovich.

This maybe should have been his job before, now he was the perfect guy for it.

The only question was could the frosty relationship between Colangelo and Popovich warm up. Their tensions date back to 2004, when Mike Krzyzewski was ultimately selected over Popovich to take the USA job. It wasn’t the selection of Coach K; rather it was Colangelo’s comments to the media that Krzyzewski was more “enthusiastic” about the job than Popovich, that he wanted it more. That rubbed Popovich — a former Air Force man who tried out for the 1972 Olympic team and was an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team — the wrong way. He wanted the job badly and felt Colangelo misread him. That was the first snowfall in a relationship that became cold.

They warmed it up this last summer on the California coast.

“We met this past summer in Carmel, California, and had a great, great opportunity to talk about a lot of things,” Colangelo said Friday....

“I had a short list, it started and ended and with Pop. So when we met we talked about a lot of things. The past, the future, and more importantly where are we going going forward.”

Popovich was humble and fairly understated about the task ahead of him. He will be 70 at the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but he’s excited about the challenge.

“In all of our lives, if you can keep challenges in front of you it’s a good thing,” Popovich said. “I’m not ready to plant tomatoes day in and day out.”

He’s not going to have to garden — or focus on his wine label — for a few more years.