Jerry Colangelo, who has managed the U.S. men’s national basketball team since 2006 and chaired USA Basketball since 2009, was re-elected Tuesday as chairman of the organization’s board of directors. The former NBA coach, executive and owner will guide USA Basketball through the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
Under his leadership, the U.S. men’s team won two Olympic gold medals and a world championship and posted a 62-1 record. The U.S. women’s team, led by Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings, also won two Olympic crowns and a world title.
Several important decisions loom for Colangelo and USA Basketball, including who will replace national team coaches Mike Krzyzewski (men) and Geno Auriemma (women), who each led their teams to gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Krzyzewski also guided Team USA’s “Redeem Team,” with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co., to gold in 2008.
Colangelo took some time on Wednesday to answer a few questions from TeamUSA.org.
I’ve always had a passion for the game and I’ve been blessed to have been involved in the game at every level — playing, coaching, scouting, managing, owning teams. And then having the opportunity to be involved with USA Basketball and represent our country on the international stage; it was wonderful opportunity and it’s been a great run where we’ve turned over a new leaf in terms of our program. Taking over in 2005, when I did, in terms of the managing director of the national team and then subsequently being elected chairman and now for a second term, I’m very entrenched and very committed to the organization and its future, because I see a very bright future for USA Basketball. I see continued growth. I see continued involvement of the youth of America. And we want to keep our pipeline absolutely full and operating on all cylinders, and that’s where we are today. But there’s no guarantee you can remain there unless you really focus on your objective and don’t ever let up.
Given that the men’s and women’s national teams are both at the top of their sport, why was it important to you to serve another term as the head of USA Basketball?
It’s about expansion. It might include a new home for USA Basketball if we’re able to end up with the kind of the campus to help us with this growth that we have in mind with youth basketball and so forth. But maintaining (Team USA’s spot atop the basketball world) is a challenge, in terms of your position of dominance. We are the defending gold medalists in most every category, so that will be the ultimate challenge.
Where are you planning to build this new campus for USA Basketball?
I can’t get into details because there are some negotiations going on. We’ll lay all of that out, but that won’t happen for a few months. There are some things in the works that would put us in a position to have much more of an impact around the country, and we have great interest in doing that.
Since you became chairman what aspect of USA Basketball are you most proud of?
I’ve been so impressed with the staff, the organization of people that put in yeoman’s work in making it all happen. Everything is done in a first-class fashion in the sense that everyone is mindful of the responsibility that we have in representing our country. Secondly, the building of our brand over these last two quads has been amazing. You can feel it, you can sense it, and now we’re in a position where we can really leverage that — and I think we have a group of people that are really committed to making that happen.
Where does Team USA’s brand stand as we sit here today?
Today, USA Basketball has a brand, a very strong brand as evidenced by the partners that we have in terms of advertising and marketing and so forth, and we should use that platform for the common good of the game and the development of young people, both physically and emotionally, so we have great interest in growing the game.
Looking back, what do you remember about the Athens 2004 Olympic Games — before you took over USA Basketball — as you watched the United States struggle to a bronze medal?
Having been in the NBA for over four decades and having been aware of how the process worked up through ’04 in terms of the selection of players, ’04 was kind of hitting the bottom of the barrel. A number of players chose not to play at the last minute; there were a number of young replacement players that were not ready for prime time. What really struck me in a negative way was not the performance necessarily. It was not limited to that. It’s about showing respect. It’s about the respect that’s so important to us. And so it left everyone with a very bad taste in their mouth. But out of adversity comes opportunity, and honestly, because of where we were in ’04, that led to the call I received about whether or not I would be interested in helping out, and I said I would, but I had certain conditions and they were met. So it’s been all really very good since then. … People have asked me often, ‘How did you feel when you won in ’08 in Beijing?’ Well, very few people have an opportunity to express a passion, to lay out a game plan, watch it executed perfectly, and get the desired result. So that moment when the “Star-Spangled Banner” was being played and the medals were being passed out, that was a moment of total fulfillment. It can’t get any better than that.
Let’s talk about your goals for USA Basketball. Aside from obviously hoping to win the 2016 gold medal in Rio, what other goals do you have for USA Basketball over the next four years?
In my mind, a campus for USA Basketball so we can expand our horizons and our platform. (I’d like to) really get involved with the youth in our country, continue to build our brand by continuing to improve ourselves. … We’ve come light years from where we were. It’s gone way beyond just changing the logo or changing colors, as so many businesses do. We’ve really added some real strengths to our brand by how we’ve conducted ourselves, how we’re looked upon by those people that are looking to associate with the right brands and the right individuals and we’ve accomplished that in a short period of time.
What do you think is the state of the U.S. women’s team these days?
The women’s program is incredibly successful. The fact that they’ve won five consecutive gold medals in the Olympics kind of speaks for itself, but their dominance in the game around the globe is one of the great stories of the game, period. Just a total dominance at this point. There will come a time when the challenges will be there … but over a period of time we will see certain countries rise to the occasion to be even more competitive. As far as the women’s program today, this is only a matter of continuing to do it as well as we are and never being satisfied with successes of the past. It’s nice to have the medals. It’s nice to look back and spend a few moments relishing those moments, but the important thing is looking forward. I couldn’t be more proud of them than I am.
What are your thoughts on Geno Auriemma’s desire to lower the women’s rim about 7 inches?
I’ve always kidded about the fact that people have referred to raising the basket in the men’s game. I would joke, ‘Why don’t we just lower the floor?’ As far as women are concerned, the game is played below the rim in the women’s game, while that’s not true in the men’s game. It’s a totally different game. People who are involved in the women’s game need to take a look at what the implications might be if it were lowered ever so little. It didn’t have to be that extreme, but I think it’s always healthy to look at certain rules and make a determination on whether it should be addressed.
Have you tried to talk Coach K and Geno Auriemma into returning for another Olympic Games?
That’s a subject I haven’t spent a lot of time on. I have indicated I am taking some time away from that situation. Geno is finished on the women’s side; that was pretty clear. Coach K’s situation is still fluid in my opinion, and we’ll be getting to that by the end of the year.
With regards to the men’s team, who are a couple guys that you see as potential replacements?
We had a discussion of a list of college and pro coaches who are certainly worthy of consideration, some of whom have been involved with USA Basketball in some prior role. The names pushed by the media — Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Doug Collins, Mike D’Antoni — are good names and they’re interesting articles. By the end of the year, I’ll be addressing that.
Why are you against having an age limit for Olympic basketball?
I think sports never ever stays the same. I think FIBA has a game plan to expand the game on the global basis and to bring much more focus to the World Cup, the former World Championships that have been renamed. But before that all happens, before an age limit on the Olympics is put into play, the World Cup needs to be brought up to a level where it can really withstand it. In other words, you better be sure before you make that kind of a drastic change that everyone buys into the new concept. I definitely felt short term that it was not a short-term view, that it had to be much more down the road because it sounded premature to me.
What does your gut instinct tell you about an age limit in the Olympic Games in 2016? 2020?
It appears that there are a number of people on the same page, so that at the appropriate time, whether it’s 2020 or not, that’s something we will see.