LONDON – Kobe Bryant’s basketball career has come full circle. Mike D’Antoni, the man he grew up admiring as a player in Italy, is now an assistant for the USA Olympic team.
“I enjoy spending time around him [as a coach],” Bryant said. “I’ve also enjoyed being around him because I’ve watched him growing up. He played in Italy, and I grew up over there and I enjoyed watching him then.”
Bryant was raised in Italy when his dad, Joe “Jellybean”
Bryant, played there professionally for seven seasons. At the time, D’Antoni was a star player for Olympia Milano. Bryant left for the U.S. in 1991, just as D’Antoni began his legendary Italian coaching career.
D’Antoni has made an impact with Team USA, especially with his innovative offensive imagination, which made his five-year, “seven seconds or less” run with the Phoenix Suns so memorable.
Bryant referred to D’Antoni as an “offensive genius.” U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was “brilliant.” Even Carmelo Anthony, who played for D’Antoni during his turbulent coaching career in New York, said “it’s fun” to be reunited with him.
“It’s good to do something,” D’Antoni said. “The Olympics are fantastic. Everybody is really going in the same direction. This is easy work in the sense of you’re representing your country, which makes you proud to be able to do something like that. But the biggest thing is nobody gets paid, this is just to win a gold medal and to coach the best athletes in the world is just amazing.”
Krzyzewski calls D’Antoni a co-coach instead of an assistant and said D’Antoni brings something unique.
“By playing and coaching internationally he has brought to us a level of respect from the international community just having him on our staff,” Krzyzewski said.
Team USA was favored to beat Spain in the gold medal game Sunday, but D’Antoni’s future remains uncertain when he returns to the states.
“I look at everything and I love to coach, and that’s what I’ll do,” D’Antoni said. “I hope I can find a job. I’ll look around and see what happens and see what the future holds.”
Could it be back in Phoenix someday as coach of the Arizona State basketball team?
“Obviously, Phoenix is a great city,” D’Antoni said. “Arizona State is a great university, they got a good coach [Herb Sendek] and everything is good. I’m looking to probably stay in the NBA and hopefully that’s where my future will be.”