It was the perfect storm. An NBA All-Star suffers a major injury on national TV while playing a meaningless intrasquad scrimmage on a court many suspect does not meet NBA standards.
Everyone at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Arena cringed when Indiana Pacers star Paul George broke his lower right leg while trying to block a layup. It was later diagnosed as a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula, which likely knocks George out for at least 12 months or longer.
You could see the pain in the faces of players when they saw their teammate crumble to the floor and unable to get up. Some couldn’t even look. Their worst fears were realized, and all of a sudden playing for the red, white and blue wasn’t such a good idea anymore.
This unfortunate injury is a major setback for USA Basketball, the NBA, FIBA and the Pacers. Fortunately, the right person is at the helm to do damage control.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski smartly called off the game, knowing that the rest of the team was in no mood to finish the exhibition game. He joined USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo at the post-game press conference where he immediately put a hold on any roster moves and channeled all the focus on the health of George.
If there is one man who can restore order amid the chaos and the depression that has fallen over Team USA, it’s Krzyzewski.
He made the right call in not continuing the game and he avoided digging the program into a deeper hole by suspending training camp and allowing the players to be with their support system outside of basketball.
When Coach K was hired to lead Team USA in 2005, he inherited a program that needed a major overhaul. The senior men’s national team was coming off a disappointing bronze-medal finish in the Athens Olympics. Since Coach K took over the program, Team USA is 62-1 in international competition. The U.S. won two Olympic gold medals and finished first in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. The only blemish on Coach K’s USA Basketball resume was a loss to Greece in 2006.
Krzyzewski was saddled with the huge task of restoring Team USA’s dominance in Olympic competition, and he accomplished that by leading a squad anchored by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant to gold in Beijing in 2008. That team was known as the Redeem Team.
Now, Coach K will be asked again to redeem Team USA.
This challenge will be a bit different. It won’t be about winning gold medals or blowing out teams by 30 points. The challenge will be more about fixing the team’s psyche and reassuring the NBA community that George’s injury was a freak accident and players shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to represent your country against the rest of the world.
No one knows the pulse of the USA Basketball program better than Coach K. He will carefully assess the situation and figure out the next more with the blessing of Colangelo.
“We need to take care of right now appropriately and then move on,” Krzyzewski said.
The remaining 19 players in camp, the majority of them under 30 years old, will look to Coach K for strength and guidance. And you can bet that Coach K will find the right things to say. He always does.
Krzyzewski will likely use George’s injury as a rallying point. Once the shock of the grisly injury wears off and Team USA returns to training for the FIBA World Cup, Coach K will find a way to bring this unit together. All the players are reportedly going to honor their commitment to USA Basketball, which is a good sign. That’s the first sign of healing.
George’s injury could have occurred anywhere. He could have done it while working out on his own or while playing in the L.A. Drew League. The reason why there was so much overreaction was because it happened on live TV.
The players on this team have a ton of character and resolve. They knew what they were signed for when they accepted the invitation to wear the American colors.
In the short term, there will be some hesitation. In the long term, Team USA should rebound and bring home the gold medal for Paul George.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.