It’s time for Jay Wright to get his chance to serve as the head coach of NBA players.
Deep breaths, Nova Nation. I’m not talking about Wright getting a job with an NBA franchise. Rather, USA Basketball should make the bold step of naming Wright as the head coach of the national team prior to the 2020 Summer Olympics.
That’s because for the first time since 2006, USA Basketball’s gold medal chances in a major tournament went bust. Or more appropriately, they went Pop — as in Gregg Popovich.
In his first run of games as national team head coach, Popovich lost twice as many games in a month as Mike Krzyzewski did in a decade at the helm of USA Basketball. The Pop/NBA apologists will be quick to point out Coach K had more talent at his disposal than Popovich did for this World Cup.
That’s true. But it points to why a college coach should always lead the national team. The No. 1 job (and probably No. 2 and No. 3) for the national team coach is to convince the best players to play. You know who has experience at convincing good players to play for them? High-level college coaches. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Popovich would be interested in sending the texts and making the phone calls necessary to convince top NBA players that were on the fence to participate. But that is second nature to Jay Wright.
Additionally, Wright is unencumbered of the NBA rivalries that can make it a challenge to build the type of relationships necessary to ensure enough frontline stars are willing to give their offseasons to USA Basketball.
Another reason why a college coach, specifically Wright, should lead the national team is the nature of the task. Beyond the one-and-done nature of international tournament play, the expectation is for USA Basketball to win every game. When you run a big-time college program, that is a familiar pressure. Any time a Duke or Villanova loses, it’s newsworthy. On the road, it likely means a court storm. When an NBA coach loses a game on the road, he gets on a charter flight and coaches again the next night.
You can argue that Popovich understands that expectation. And I’m sure he thinks he did. But I’d rather roll the dice with someone that lives that pressure every night of their season and plays in a one-and-done setting every March. And no coach has been better in the NCAA Tournament in recent years than Wright. Look at those two trophies on Villanova’s campus for proof of that.
Lastly, a college coach has more time at their disposal to devote towards the USA Basketball program. An NBA season can run from late September to early June. A college campaign goes from mid-October until the first Monday in April. That’s extra time for Wright, relative to an NBA coach, to dedicate to preparation, scouting and recruiting.
Wright — for his part —has been a constant for USA Basketball. He’s serving as an assistant for Popovich currently. He’s presumed by many to be next in line for the role after Popovich coaches the Olympic team next summer.
Maybe USA Basketball can afford to wait until 2021 to hand the reins to Wright. Maybe more All-Stars will agree to take part in a showcase event like the Olympics. Maybe this was just a one-game fluke.
But USA Basketball’s expectations leave no room for doubt.
Wright’s the best man for the job right now.
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