Thursday, August 7, 2008

Can UNC fans embrace team led by Coach K?

In recent Olympics, it has become increasingly difficult for some fans in the United States to wholeheartedly embrace Team USA in basketball. There was a reigning perception that U.S. players were selfish or interested only in marketing themselves and the products they endorsed.

Meanwhile, Naismith's native nation saw its results on the court plummet. Now, suddenly, there seems to be more support for the U.S. team, at least among the media.

Sports Illustrated recently wrote a complimentary story about coach Mike Krzyzewski's "Redeem Team." In an unusual column (, frequent Krzyzewski critic Gregg Doyel of CBSSportsline (who was my predecessor as an ACC writer at The Charlotte Observer), said he will make amends with Krzyzewski if he brings home the gold medal.

The consensus is that by demanding a three-year commitment from players and instilling the same team-first attitude that made him successful at Duke, Krzyzewski is doing the right thing for USA Basketball. That has a lot of people rooting for his team across the country.

But Krzyzewski often has contended that Duke is more popular across the country than here in North Carolina. The real question is, are North Carolina fans rooting for Team USA, knowing that a gold medal would cement Krzyzewski's legacy as one of the all-time greats? North Carolina guy Larry Brown (with Roy Williams at his side) settled for bronze in 2004.

After that disappointment, could North Carolina fans stomach Coach K with a gold medal around his neck?

Does patriotism override college basketball's most passionate rivalry?

For a few weeks in August, can Tar Heels set aside Carolina blue to wear red, white and blue with Krzyzewski at the helm?

Locally, those will be some of the most interesting questions as Team USA seeks to redeem itself in Beijing.

– Ken Tysiac