Spurs, Popovich Owe a Lot To Duke's Coach Krzyzewski

Mike Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich
Mike Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

When Mike Krzyzewski leads his Duke club to the court on Saturday evening, it could be the last time he does so in his legendary head coaching career. That day is likely coming soon for the San Antonio Spurs and Gregg Popovich as well.

Like Pop, Coach K has five titles to his name and is seeking a sixth before calling it a career, and he's 40 minutes from reaching another NCAA Tournament Championship game. To do so, he'll have to go through Hubert Davis and his North Carolina Tar Heels.

Saturday will mark Krzyzewski's 13th appearance in the Final Four, and he'll undoubtedly have some guys in the Spurs family rooting him on. Tre Jones, who spent two seasons at Duke from 2018-20, has been closely following his alma mater every step of the way and will be able to look on as the Spurs have the day off.

While the jury is still out on whether Jones has enough to solidify himself as a permanent backup point guard or better, he's played an important part in the Spurs' rebuilding season and shows promise going forward.

Beyond that, one of Coach Popovich's biggest achievements came with the help of Coach K as the successor to Team USA basketball.

Coach Krzyzewski's advice propels Pop to international glory

As Team USA basketball was set to play for another gold medal last year, nearly 50 years of unfinished business was resting on the shoulders of Gregg Popovich. After narrowly missing the 1972 squad as a player, he then had to settle for bronze at the 2004 Olympics as an assistant coach.

"To this day, I got this thing in my head that bothers me more than any loss I've ever had in the NBA," Popovich said about that tournament. "It just bugs the hell out of me."

The mounting pressure was evident as the tournament grew, as the media started to pile on Popovich after some exhibition losses. Ultimately, the winningest coach of all time was finally able to cross the finish line with the gold, and that can partly be attributed to some simple yet important advice. After a victory over Patty Mills and Australia last August, he talked about those wise words.

"Kevin Durant mentioned that you had been saying to the guys something about strong faces," said a reporter. "What do you mean by that?"

"I copied that from Coach K," responded Pop. "That's something he's been telling the Olympians for all the Olympic Games that he participated in as coach. And it's basically a play on the next play, that you don't react to a teammate’s turnover or referee’s call, or the fact that you missed a shot. Nobody cares. You don't have that right. You owe your team and you're responsible to your team to move on to the next play. And he called it strong faces. As simplistic as that sounds it's really true. So, we've tried to adopt that."

Just as every coach in the NBA now looks up to Coach Popovich as the blueprint for success, the legend himself turned to another legend for that extra bit that could push the United States over the top -- and, of course, having Kevin Durant didn't hurt.

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I'm inclined to say that gold medal might be Coach Popovich's proudest achievement of them all, and every single person who helped him get there deserves gratitude and recognition. Thanks, Coach K.