In Retrospect: Examining the 2007 NBA Draft First Round

[The following is a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if and when we survive this global pandemic.]

The NBA draft is a fascinating social phenomenon. Front offices use it as an opportunity to pitch entice their team’s fan base to renew their season ticket packages (sometimes before the season is even over). Some fans use it as a beacon of hope for their favorite team and some players see the draft as a harbinger of what is to come for their own careers. 

A great draft can create a dynasty, a good one can extend it, and a bad draft can set a franchise back five to ten years. The line between bust and boom depends on two important factors: the health of a player and the health of a franchise. Would Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard be the same kinds of players had they landed in Brooklyn or Indiana? Would we think of Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant the same had their careers started in Portland?

Sometimes it really is just a matter of a player landing in the right situation. Successful organizations invest in their draft picks and put them in situations to succeed. Not all superstars come into the league ready made; some need to be developed and coached and polished into the diamonds they eventually become.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Veterans carry value within the locker room as well as on the court. As is in life, sometimes its all about meeting the right people to help steer you in the right direction. But NBA success isn’t guaranteed. For every Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Butler, there are tons of players who eat themselves out of the league, have substance abuse problems, and even cases of mental illness. The NBA draft is a crapshoot, and some organizations were good, some bad, and others were just plain (un) lucky.

In this chapter we examine a few select draft classes–ones which altered the league indefinitely–that were springboards to some franchises success and doomed others to being league doormats. These drafts were full of generational talent that changed the league for years to come. Some teams set themselves up to contend for the decade, while other teams set themselves up for failure. You can take a look and see from the drafts which teams trended where.

                                                     2007 First Round

  1. Greg Oden C, Portland
16. Nick Young SG Wizards
2. Kevin Durant F, Seattle 17. Sean Williams PF New Jersey
3. Al Horford C Atlanta 18. Marco Bellinelli SG Golden State
4. Mike Conley Jr. PG Memphis 19. Jarvis Crittenton PG Los Angeles Clippers
5. Jeff Green SF Boston (Traded to Seattle) 20. Jason Smith PF Miami (traded to Philadelphia)
6. Yi Jianlin PF Milwaukee 21. Daequan Cook SG Philadelphia (traded to Miami)
7. Corey Brewer SF Minnesota 22. Jared Dudley SF Charlotte
8. Brandon Wright PF Charlotte (traded to Golden State) 23. Wilson Chandler SF New York
9. Joakim Noah C Chicago 24. Rudy Fernandez SG Phoenix (traded to Portland)
10. Spencer Hawes C Sacramento  25. Morris Almond SG Utah
11. Acie Law G Atlanta 26. Aaron Brooks PG Houston
12. Thaddeus Young PF Philadelphia 27. Arron Afflalo SG Detroit
13. Julian Wright SF New Orleans 28. Tiago Splitter C San Antonio
14. Al Thornton SF Los Angeles Clippers 29. Alando Tucker SF Phoenix
15. Rodney Stuckey SG, Pistons

 

All Stars 

Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah

 

Notable Role players Drafted This Round

Ramon Sessions,Glen “Big Baby” Davis,Carl Landry,Arron Afflalo,Aaron Brooks,Tiago Splitter,Rudy Fernandez,Wilson Chandler,Jared Dudley,Daquan Cook,Rodney Stuckey,Nick Young,Thaddeus Young,Spencer Hawes,Corey Brewer,Jeff Green,Joakim Noah, Marco Bellinelli,

 

First Round Busts

Greg Oden, Wright, Javaris Crittendon, Brandon Wright, Yi Janlian

 

Steal of the draft: Marc Gasol with the 48th pick. Gasol turned into an All NBA defender, and was a key mid season trade acquisition for the 2019 Champion Toronto Raptors. He along with Mike Conley became the cornerstones of the “Grit N Grind” era Grizzlies.

 

Notable Undrafted: Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal, Joel Anthony

 

NBA Champions 

Kevin Durant (2017,2018) Tiago Splitter (2014) Glen Davis (2008) Marco Bellinelli (2014) Corey Brewer(2011) Marc Gasol (2019) Nick Young (2018) Joel Anthony (2012,2013)

 

Draft Day Notes :

 

  • Mike Conley is one of the few top 5 picks to never make an All Star Team and not be considered a bust. Conley is like a NFL quarterback without any weapons on offense. The only players that Conley ever had to help him on offense have been Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. If I were coaching a young point guard, I would make them watch countless hours of Mike Conley game footage to help them understand how to run an offense. There are few point guards in the league who can control an offense as efficiently as Mike Conley Jr. Conley also had the misfortune of playing in the West (why isn’t Memphis in the Eastern Conference?) during the point god renaissance and was always overlooked in favor of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Steph Curry, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul. Now pretty much washed, Conley may never get his true due as a high level point guard. 
  • Portland–not understanding they were doomed to repeat team history–passed on a generational talent in the draft to select a player based on need–and again it was a big man who never got his career off the ground in the way a number one draft pick is expected to perform. Greg Oden didn’t even stay in the league as long 1984 pick Sam Bowie. Oden had 3 micro-fracture surgeries on his knees in a five year period and was unable to stay healthy enough to make an impact on his Blazers’ teams success. He played fine when he could play, averaging almost  a double-double in his first two seasons. Durant of course became an all world player, winning Olympics medals, scoring titles, ten All star game appearances,  a league MVP, and 2 Finals MVP’s on the way to two championships–not to mention millions of dollars in endorsements.
  • If it were true what Portland apologists say–that the Trailblazers didn’t need another wing player; they needed a rim protector in the paint, then the proper selection of that particular draft would’ve been Al Horford (in hindsight). Portland could’ve easily swapped picks with the Atlanta Hawks and still gotten Horford without paying him as the number one pick in the draft. Who is to say that anyone could’ve foreseen Oden having injury problems? I certainly didn’t, but I’d watched enough ball that season to see that Oden’s body might not be able to handle his frame. Even I could see that there might be some problems, especially with him already missing most of his freshman year with a broken hand. Although, to be fair, he was a monster on the defensive end of the court when he played at Ohio State.On the other hand, Portland could’ve had a front line of AL Horford, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum, with Joel Pryzbilla, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench. Oh yeah, by the way, Brandon Roy was the starting point guard. Blazers went 54-28 that season and finished 2nd in the Pacific Division to the West champion Los Angeles Lakers, but maybe they actually make a deep run instead getting knocked out in the first round to the Houston Rockets. There is no telling how far a big 3 of Aldridge, Horford, and Roy would have taken them during that Brandon Roy era.  Portland would continue to make the playoffs, only to be formidable playoff opponents that ultimately fell in the first round–their win total decreasing each season. Eventually, head coach Nate McMillan would lose his job, and the Blazers would miss the playoffs two consecutive seasons. In short, that blown lottery pick set the team back half a decade, and it took drafting Weber State’s Damien Lillard (after Brandon Roy’s degenerative knee condition forced him to retire early) to turn the franchise around again.
  • Jeff Green got traded to the SuperSonics that night, but Boston came calling again years later, when they broke up their mini-dynasty and traded defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Boston would never got back to the NBA Finals after trading Perkins; falling again and again to the Lebron James led Miami Heat.

 

And the Winner is: 

Oklahoma City. They pulled off the heist of the century in stealing an entire NBA franchise (with the help of David Stern)  and moving them to the midwest. Kevin Durant would become the face of the franchise, and OKC would end up with two more lottery picks that would become league MVP’s (more on that later). Seattle to this day still doesn’t have an NBA team, and the league is worse off for not having teams in Vancouver and Seattle. Maybe that will change by the time this book is published. One can only hope.

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

KU vs UT:Rivalry or Revelry?

[The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other basketball essays; coming out someday if we ever survive this global pandemic]

Texas vs. Kansas provided fans with not only some of the most entertaining games of not only the Big 12, but in the nation.

One of the consequences of the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, was that it combined the strengths of the Big Eight and Southwest conference and covered up some of the weakness. Annual football powerhouses like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A& M were able to pitch recruits on marquee games against in conference foes, while Kansas could continue its reign as basketball overlords (having won 43 outright conference titles with the next closest being Kansas State with 17).

Kansas would continue its dominance in the new conference even going undefeated with an all time great team in 2002 (being the first and only team to do so, so far). Although Kansas has won 17 of the last 21 titles (including 12 straight before the 2018-2019 season), there have been years where other schools were able to give them a run for their money; most notably, the University of Texas. 

At UT’s best, (during the T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant years) this matchup produced some of the most memorable games the conference and nation had ever seen. The reason these games were so memorable is that they had star power on both teams, with future NBA players in each game. Although Texas lost all four games, the quality of the games were so high, that even Kansas fans walked away with respect for how those Texas teams competed. T.J. Ford once remarked on Twitter that the 2003 game in Allen was unforgettable, and one of the most intense games he’d ever took part in. 

As of today, Kansas leads the series 33-9 and since the 2013-2014, Kansas has won 11 of 12 meetings. Que Lastima! It could’ve been something beautiful. It could’ve been a Big 12 rivalry, but in the Big 12, Kansas has no rival (and don’t say Kansas State; that’s more emotion than execution). 

 

Kansas at Texas February 11, 2002 

Kansas over Texas 110-103 OT

This high octane game featured the two highest ranked recruits at their position in Jayhawks’ point guard, Aaron Miles and the Longhorn’s T.J. Ford. It was a point guard clinic. This game got up to 100’s as Kansas finally prevailed in overtime 110-103. It was one of the best games I’d ever attended live, with both teams going up and down the court. T.J. Ford was already making his case as one of the best point guards in the nation, taking the precise amount of dribbles necessary to advance the ball and always throwing his passes in a place where teammates could either shoot it or make a basketball move. He was fundamentally sound and a good defender. 

Miles had the luxury of playing with three All American players in Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. In addition to those guys, he had sharpshooter Jeff Boschee, and off the bench came Wayne Simien, Michael Lee and Keith Langford. Texas at the time was no slouch with James Thomas, Brandon Mouton, and Brian Boddicker on their side, and arguably one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders in future NBA role player, Royal Ivey. 

This game featured some impeccably run fast breaks, high flying alley oops, great defensive plays, and efficient offensive possessions, punctuated by a game tying jumper at 0:31 seconds in layup by Royal Ivey to send the game into overtime. At the time it was the loudest game I’d ever attended. The Frank Erwin Center was at 94 % capacity that night , at least half the crowd were Jayhawks fans. Seeing the Jayhawk faithful devotion and passion to their team (some people had driven down to Austin that day and were driving back to Lawrence immediately afterwards) piqued my interest, and the seed was planted to one day see a game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas

Footnotes:

  • Aaron Miles 10 points, 13 assists
  • T.J. Ford 16 points, 11 assists
  • Brandon Mouton had 25 pts , 9-17 FG for UT
  • Wayne Simien had 17 points, 10 rebounds (7-9 field goals)
  • Jeff Boschee 21 pts, 6-13 (3 pt)
  • Drew Gooden 28 points, 7 boards on 12/23 shooting
  • Texas forward Brian Boddicker 19 points for UT (4-8 3 pt)
  • Kansas more than 50 points in the paint and 4 out of timeout plays that resulted in lobs at the rim (This was also the first time I’d seen the front court high-lo run to perfection with Drew Gooden and Nick Collison). 
  • UT Power Forward James Thomas 14 pts, 12 rebounds
  • Nick Collison had 5 points, 2 key rebounds and 1 assist in the last 6 minutes of play (regulation and OT combined)
  • Kansas at the time of this game was 53-0 all time when scoring 100 plus points
  • Kansas guard Aaron Miles almost ended the game in regulation when he missed potential game winning jumper at the buzzer
  • Texas had five players in double figures of scoring while Kansas had six
  • This game also featured 5 players who all ranked in the previous season as the top 100 high school recruits, point guards T.J. Ford (#10) and Aaron Miles(#11), and forwards, Wayne Simien(#67), and Keith Langford(#41).
  • Basketball fans were robbed of a NCAA tournament rematch between these two teams when UT lost to Oregon 70-72 in the Sweet Sixteen round. It would’ve been a memorable Elite Eight for all parties involved. 

 

Texas at Kansas January 27th, 2003: The Nick Collison game

Texas 87-Kansas 90

This Big Monday rematch (featuring two top 5 teams) did not disappoint. It was fast paced, up and down and a very intense crowd in Allen Fieldhouse. Playing on four fouls, Nick Collison took over down the stretch drawing a standing ovation from announcer Dick Vitale. T.J. Ford put up 25 points and had 10 assists. Aaron Miles put up 15 and 9 assists, Kirk Hinrich had 25 points as well, but it was Collison who put up an unforgettable 24 points and 23 rebounds; scoring in every way possible to put the team on his back. A # 3 ranked Texas squad came to Lawrence and gave the struggling Jayhawks all they could handle (Kansas had lost their previous 2 games making this matchup a must win). Texas had two chances at the end to tie the game (Kansas didn’t make their free throws–something that would continue to haunt them all year) and send it to overtime with 2 missed desperation three pointers before the buzzer sounded. This would be the last time head coaches Rick Barnes and Roy Williams would face off as Big 12 opponents.

 

March 3, 2007 Texas at Kansas Kevin Durant comes to Lawrence 

Texas 86-Kansas 90

 

One of this generation’s most fantastic phenoms came to basketball’s most hallowed court and left his mark. Kansas overcame a 16 point deficit as Kevin Durant scored 25 first half points to open the game (he would finish the game with 32 points). He had lots of help from his teammates. Damion James chipped in 12 points, A.J. Abrams had 18 points, and D.J. Augustin scored 19 points and dished out 13 assists. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they only had 8 offensive rebounds compared to Kansas 13, and Texas only had 2 points all game from their bench. Despite all that, they almost came away with a W, and probably would’ve if not for an injury to Kevin Durant’s ankle with less than 11 minutes left in the game (keep in mind that KU was up at the time 71-67 when this occurred).

Texas jumped out to a 16 point lead, lost it in the second half but fought back at the end to get within three points. Julian Wright made an unbelievable block on D.J. Augustin’s 3 point attempt to tie the game. Wright would finish the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds 6 assists and 5 blocks.

What is most notable about this game was the sheer volume of NBA bound players who played. Brandon Rush, Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, and Darrell Arthur, and for Texas, D.J. Augustin, and Kevin Durant (Damien James and Dexter Pittman had cups of coffee in the league too).*(Keep in mind that Lamarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, and P.J. Tucker all left school early for the NBA. Imagine the hype around this game had they still had those guys on the roster.)* 

Although it would not go into overtime like the Big 12 tournament championship game, the overall quality of play was better. Because it was in Lawrence–a college atmosphere not an over-sized arena–both teams played better overall in this match-up to decide the Big 12 regular season champion. This would prove to be the peak of these two basketball programs contesting each other.

2007 Big 12 Championship Tournament game (Durant gets a glimpse into his future)

Texas 84 at Kansas 88

The second meeting had the intensity of their first meeting, but lacked the efficiency and execution, as both teams were clearly exhausted going into their game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant had little help scoring outside of A.J. Abrams’ 19 points. The team collectively shot 38 % and would’ve been blown out had it not been for Kevin Durant’s 37 points (12-30 shooting) 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. Kansas with its five future NBA players on the roster, had four guys score in double figures. In a harbinger of what was to come for Kansas (the next season), Chalmers hit a game tying 3 pointer off a dribble hand-off play to send it into overtime. Texas (again) jumped out to a solid lead, but couldn’t quite hold on. There were only 14 points scored total during overtime as Kansas just outlasted Texas despite Mario Chalmers fouling out at the end of regulation.  

That particular Kansas team would would go on to lose to UCLA in the Elite Eight, while Texas would get knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament by Nick Young, Taj Gibson and the USC Trojans. Neverthless, Kansas and Texas have never been able to recapture the magic that college hoops fans witnessed in the early to mid 2000’s. Despite sending numerous guys to the NBA, Texas hit a level of mediocrity that cost Rick Barnes his job after almost another decade.  Kansas would continue to dominate the league to this day, not missing a beat with head coach Bill Self who would parlay his success at Kansas into a Hall of Fame coaching career. Losing only Julian Wright the following season, Kansas would go on to march to the Final Four and beat Memphis in the title game; taking Self only 5 seasons to win a national championship at KU. 

 

BM

Before He was the GOAT: Excerpt from Tao of The Passing Big Man, and other Essays

The following is a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if and when we survive this global pandemic. 

 

91sqa9davjl._ac_sx425_

“When I first saw Michael play, I recognized there was a different era coming in. In my time, I believe the best all around player has been Magic Johnson. The best defensive player has been Michael Cooper. And in a few more years Michael Jordan will be the best player there ever was.”

Larry Bird excerpt from his autobiography, “Drive”

Even though Michael Jordan spent his final two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards, many fans’ lasting impression of number 23 is his jump shot over Bryon Russell as a Chicago Bull. It is easy to get blinded by the flashy dunks and dizzying highlights. Sure MJ had the Gatorade commercials, and the Nike and McDonald’s advertisements because he was such an exciting player to watch, but the reason Michael Jordan is held in such high reverence is because he really was the “Greatest of All Time”.

We can talk about his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals and six Finals MVP’s, his five regular season MVP’s, his ten scoring titles, and 14 All-Star appearances, but many people forget that he was also the best defensive player at his position. Jordan made First Team All-Defensive in nine of his seasons, led the league in steals three times, and during his 1988 campaign when he averaged 32 points per game, he was the defensive player of the year.

Before Michael Jordan’s ascent, the NBA was ruled by big men. Giants like Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain (and George Mikan before them) dominated the game. It was a conventional belief around the league that in order to win NBA titles consistently, you had to have a fixture at the center position to anchor your team. At 6’6, Jordan not only defied these conventions, he changed the league entirely; sparking the shift to a league full of wings and guards beating their defenders en route to gravity defying dunks.

Before he was hitting iconic game winning shots against Utah and Cleveland, he was hitting game winning jumpers to win NCAA games against Georgetown, Duke, NC State, and Maryland.

vcfcgr3y7bcsnkqzhyqbgzfqea

Jordan himself says that there would be no Michael Jordan without Dean Smith. Jordan says that after his parents, Dean Smith left the biggest imprint on who he became. Many ignorantly say that Dean Smith was the only man who could hold Jordan under 20 points, but he averaged 20 his sophomore year in college, and his junior year he hit 19.6 points per game (There was no shot clock or 3 point line back then either for what it is worth).

 

Early criticisms of Jordan’s NBA career was that he was a great scorer, but couldn’t get his teammates involved. Although this was warranted, looking back it was hard to blame him. Jordan had a better basketball coach, and better teammates (even better workout facilities) at Chapel Hill than he did during his early years in the NBA. At North Carolina, Jordan played with future Hall of Famer James Worthy (the 1982 NCAA Tourney Most Outstanding player with 28 points in the championship game on 13 of 17 shooting), Jimmy Black, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Kenny Smith (2 time NBA Champion), and Brad Daugherty (5 time NBA All Star). 

At Carolina, Jordan had arguably most talent he’d ever play with in the 1982 and 1984 seasons, and his passing skills really showed– he almost always made the correct basketball play even back then. It was at North Carolina where he mastered the fundamentals of passing, rebounding, moving without the ball, and defending. Not only did Jordan have Dean Smith as his head coach, but during the Jordan era, Coach Smith had an impeccable roster of assistant coaches in Eddie Fogler, Roy Williams (the man credited with recruiting Jordan), and Bill Gutheridge.

The Media and today’s fans like to debate, who was the greatest MJ, Kobe, or Lebron like hip hop fans used to argue Biggie, Jay-Z, or Nas. But there is no debate. Kobe Bryant (R.I.P.) was a notorious ball hog (who was actually a really good passer when he wanted to be one) who could be goaded into taking a slew of bad shots under the right circumstances (shooting the Lakers out of the 2004 and 2008 Finals). Although Lebron will amass many gaudy stats and break a lot of records, many fans will point to his six losses in the NBA Finals, and proclivity to play “too passive” in key situations early on in his playoff career (we might be having an entirely different conversation today about Lebron if not for a historic collapse by the Golden State Warriors in 2016, and a Ray Allen clutch 3 pointer in 2013).

In short, Kobe may have been too selfish offensively and Lebron may not have been selfish enough. Michael (if I may be so bold to call him by his first name) was the perfect balance of the two, as one can point to his willingness to take over games when needed or make the game winning pass; as seen in the 1993 and 1997 Finals to John Paxson, and then Steve Kerr.

There was no weakness to Jordan’s game. He was a prolific scorer, a lockdown defender, and an underrated passer. He could drive to the basket and smack the ball into the defender’s face after posterizing them, or stop short and loft a floater in the lane, or he could just beat people by shooting over them from long distance.

Looking at both Lebron and Kobe’s careers, it makes you wonder what would their careers been like had they even played at least one year in college. Kobe would’ve played at Duke for Coach K, instead of Del Harris, and Lebron would’ve played for Thad Motta at Ohio State instead of the legendary Paul Silas. It seems petty to even speculate how much “better” two of the most elite players of their generations could’ve been (as I write this, I’m actually realizing that Kobe went to 7 NBA Finals in the span of a decade), but its necessary to illustrate the gap between those two first ballot HOF players and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

It is a completely different conversation (for what it is worth, Kobe came pretty damn close) when you are talking about Jordan, and if you weren’t around to see him play in the 90’s then its not easy to understand. Statistics won’t tell the whole story about how truly dominant Jordan was and why he is is the elite among the elite. I think the biggest difference between Jordan, Kobe and Lebron, is that neither Lebron; nor Kobe had the tutelage of Dean Smith and Jordan did.

Jordan’s early development at the collegiate game was a direct testament to picking the right college and the right college coach in Dean Smith; who many consider the best teacher of the game in his time. Jordan most certainly would’ve still been the athletic freak that you see in his vintage highlight clips, but mentally and fundamentally, he may not have hit his apex had he gone to any other school in the country.

Former Tarheel, Kenny Smith, once said that “Michael Jordan was Dean Smith if Dean Smith still played basketball” and “that rarely do you see a player be the best athlete in a sport and be the most fundamentally sound.” Jordan was both. Oh yeah, (Kenny) Smith said that Jordan never took a bad shot. Think about that for a minute.

Quite often people reference the game winning jumper that Jordan hit during the 1982 championship game against Georgetown as if that told the whole story. Michael Jordan had 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting, but he also had 9 key rebounds, 2 steals and 2 steals. Even then, Jordan was focused on becoming a complete player. If he were just a scorer, he would’ve found it hard to even get off the bench during a championship game as a freshman, making it highly unlikely for a young player in that situation to find himself taking the game winning shot.

As for that game winning jumper, even Jordan admits that is when everything changed for him. He is quoted as saying “after that shot, he went from being Mike, to Michael Jordan”, and the rest as they say, is basketball history.

Screensho

Illustration by “Sweet” Lou Eastman

 

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

Book Review: A Coach’s Life

You don’t have to go very far down the Dr. James Naismith coaching tree to find Dean Smith’s name. Coach Smith played for Dr. Phog Allen in the 50’s, as a sparsely used reserve on the 1952 and 1953 Final Four teams. They beat St. John’s for the title in 1952 and lost in 1953 to Indiana–incidentally it would be the St. John’s head coach, Frank McGuire who would change Smith’s life almost 10 years down the road, by hiring him as an assistant at Carolina.

I am hard pressed to think of a more sincere and heart warming memoir than the one I found in A Coach’s Life.  It is rife with history and lessons, and none of it comes off as pompous or self serving (the exact opposite of what I imagine a Coach K memoir to be like). Dean Smith touched a lot of lives and thought of himself more as a teacher than just a coach.

His practices were notoriously just as precise as John Wooden’s, and there was nothing frivolous about the drills implemented into a 2 hour practice. Everything was mapped out by time of the drill, duration of the drill and the emphasis of the drill. Before practice even began Smith would lay out the “thought for the day” as well as an “emphasis for the day.” Smith and his players were well prepared before the game even tipped off, and were ready for any situation to occur during game time. In his retelling of the 1993 Championship game, Smith talks about scouting Michigan after defensive rebounds, and how they set Michigan to use all their time outs before Chris Webber would make his infamous mistake near the end of the game.

It is a great book that not only talks about events, but the reader gets some insight into coaching in the NCAA and how college basketball changed over time. Coach Smith doles out some free philosophy that doesn’t come off as advice or browbeating. You can tell he really cared about using the game to teach young men about life, and that he really cared about his players. Jerry West once remarked that former UNC players had an allegiance to Dean Smith that was almost scary.

There is a lot of wisdom to glean from this book, as the reader follows Smith from Emporia to Topeka to Lawrence, and eventually to Chapel Hill. Smith lead a long and fruitful life that inspired everyone he came across to be better people. You’ll be hard pressed to find any of your favorite players or coaches who in some way weren’t indirectly affected by some of Dean Smith’s caching innovations.

Smith popularized the run and jump trapping defense, the fist as a tired signal, the four corners offense, timeouts after baskets (in the college game), pointing at the player who gave the scorer an assist, and believe it or not, wrist bands. The reason we see players huddling up during dead balls, is because Coach Smith wanted his players to discuss the next defensive play call. Smith’s basketball philosophy was that basketball was a team sport and that if a player wanted individual recognition then he “should play golf, tennis, or run track.” Sometimes he would make players play 1 on 5 during practice just to prove his point.

Coach Smith was the ultimate coach’s son. His father was his high school basketball coach, and his mother was a teacher. Smith lettered in high school as a catcher, a point guard, and a quarterback, which seemed to only groom him to be a leader someday.

Although Dean Smith reached 11 Final Fours, including 2 national titles, 23 straight NCAA appearances, and 13 straight Sweet Sixteen visits, Smith is most proud of his players’ accomplishments, saying that “Players win games and coaches lose them.”

Smith was more invested in building relationships and molding men than his win-loss record. His memoir made me consider what it really means to have a successful season as there are three seasons in college basketball: the regular season including conference play, the conference tournament, and the national tournaments (NIT,NCAA). Considering that Smith’s initial post season runs intersected with Coach John Wooden and UCLA, it lends some serious perspective–not everyone can be the national champion, and each victory must be appreciated on its own merits.

While he was a coach, the UNC basketball team had a 95 % graduation rate, and 26 of his former players went on to be first round NBA selections in the draft (one of them being some guy named Michael Jordan).  Even the players who went on to do other things in life besides play basketball, managed to become winners in life because of the time they spent learning from Dean Smith–becoming doctors, lawyers, and senators.

I checked out A Coach’s Life from the library, read it, returned it, and then went online an ordered a copy for my personal book collection. The book is an essential to anyone who one day wants to coach, or to anyone who just loves basketball. It is unquestionably a Who’s Who for the game, as anyone who was a student of the sport came across Dean Smith in some way or another. This book is easily an A +

 

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com