STAY IN SCHOOL
On-the-job training can be tough for college coaches entering
A decade ago, when the Celtics tried to hire Duke coach Mike
Krzyzewski, Pistons coach Chuck Daly was asked if the adjustment
from college to pro coaching was a significant one. Daly
answered, "My trainer, Mike Abdenour, knows more about the NBA
right now than Mike Krzyzewski does."
Wonder if anyone shared that anecdote with Tom Izzo, the coach
of national champion Michigan State, who last Saturday turned
down a five-year, $15 million offer from the Hawks to fulfill
his five-year, $5.5 million contract with the Spartans. Or with
St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, who interviewed with Michael
Jordan last week for the Wizards' vacancy. Jarvis knows there's
skepticism in the pros about college coaches, who are often
dismissed as overly emotional control freaks. "It's
nerve-racking anytime you make a move," he says. "I don't know
if that stigma makes it any worse. Do I have doubts I can [coach
in the pros]? No. Does [the idea of coaching there] make me
In the 1970s and '80s former college coaches Daly, Cotton
Fitzsimmons, Mike Fratello, John MacLeod and Jack Ramsay
successfully made the transition to the pros. But the recent
track record of college coaches in the NBA has been poor: John
Calipari, P.J. Carlesimo and Jerry Tarkanian couldn't survive,
and though Bulls coach Tim Floyd is earning his peers' respect,
his record with a decimated team over two seasons is 30-102.
Why have college coaches struggled? "Most of the time they're
offered a really bad job," says Calipari, who inherited a Nets
team in 1996-97 that had gone 30-52 the previous season. Yet
Calipari also acknowledges that there's a steep learning curve
with the pro game. "One of the big things I had to figure out
was, How do the other guys coach?" he says. "If you are going to
war, it helps to know the enemy. With no NBA background, I had
to learn through games, and most of the time it was a bad
experience. You come out of a loss saying, 'So that's when he
uses the three,' or, 'That's when he changes tempo.' You can't
get that off a scouting report."
Carlesimo went from Seton Hall to the Trail Blazers before the
1994-95 season, and he won 44, 44 and 49 games over the next
three years. But G.M. Bob Whitsitt, who came to Portland after
Carlesimo, wanted his own man in the job, and he let Carlesimo
go. "If you have good players, you win," says Carlesimo. "If you
don't, you struggle, and inevitably they're going to say, 'He's
a college guy. He can't relate.' The whole thing is spin. It's a
joke, really. Basketball is basketball. Are you going to tell me
that if Coach K decided to retire at Duke, they shouldn't hire
Pat Riley because he coaches pro basketball? Don't be
ridiculous. He's a basketball genius."
SI asked six general managers if they would be open to hiring a
college coach. Each of them said yes, though one added, "We all
know there's an adjustment period, and sometimes you don't have
time to wait. You need to be good now."
Some free advice for Jarvis if he is offered the chance to make
the jump: Sixers coach Larry Brown, who won a championship with
Kansas in 1988, says having veteran players who are open to
change is critical. Tarkanian, now at Fresno State, recommends
coaching in an NBA summer league to get a feel for the rules and
substitution patterns. Carlesimo suggests hiring experienced NBA
assistants. Calipari advises choosing a team with a stable front
office that will be supportive during the dark days.
"Like I tell all the college coaches who ask me," says Calipari,
who recently signed on to coach Memphis, "When you are winning
in the NBA and the players and the organization are behind you,
it's the best job in the world. But when you're losing and have
guys who don't care, and you and ownership aren't on the same
page, there's no more miserable situation on this earth."
RASHARD LEWIS AT AGE 20
From Forgotten To Fought Over
Remember how devastated Rashard Lewis looked on draft day in
1998? The slender 18-year-old from Elsik High in Alief, Texas,
sat among the top prospects in the greenroom, shifting
uncomfortably in his seat as one player after another walked out
the door to receive an NBA team cap from commissioner David
Stern. Before long Lewis was alone in that room, weeping, his
dream of becoming a first-round pick shattered.
Two years later Lewis, a 6'10" small forward who was taken 32nd
by the SuperSonics, is about to become a very wealthy young man.
Seattle may have been bounced in the first round by the Jazz
this month, but not before Lewis gave Utah a scare with his
timely baskets and uncanny poise. With an average of 15.4 points
per game, Lewis was the Sonics' second-leading scorer in the
series; he also hit nine of 19 threes and averaged 6.2 rebounds.
Seattle coach Paul Westphal predicts that if Lewis improves his
ball handling and beefs up his 210-pound frame, he will pour in
20 to 25 points a night.
Unless the Sonics do a major overhaul to free up salary-cap
room, which is not in their plans, they can offer Lewis, a
restricted free agent, only $3.9 million a year. At present just
three teams--the Magic, the Bulls and the Clippers--have the cap
space to offer more, but Seattle is also nervous about the
Raptors, who are expected to lose their own wunderkind small
forward, Tracy McGrady, and will be looking for a replacement.
Says Sonics president Wally Walker, "It's safe to say Rashard is
our top priority."
Lewis barely played as a rookie and logged only 19.2 minutes a
game this season as Seattle tried to build his confidence.
"Rashard would get to where, if he missed a couple of shots,
he'd lose his confidence and stop shooting," says assistant Bob
But kind words from Kings forward Chris Webber, Toronto forward
Charles Oakley and Pacers coach Larry Bird persuaded him that
he'd gained the respect he'd hungered for ever since he chose to
turn pro. "By the time the playoffs came around, my confidence
level was pretty high," Lewis says. "I got a lot of feedback
after the [Jazz series] too, and everyone said: 'You're a
totally different player from last year. You look like you
Lewis says he is grateful to the Sonics, who in 1998 gave him a
guaranteed contract (worth $687,500 over two years) even though
they didn't have to. One scenario he's considering is re-signing
with Seattle for one season, which would put him in position to
earn the maximum from the Sonics as a Larry Bird free agent in
the summer of 2001.
"Right now I'm leaving all my options open," says Lewis. "My
agents [the Poston brothers, Carl and Kevin] tell me all sorts
of teams are interested, even teams over the cap. It feels good.
That night when I was sitting all alone in the greenroom was
pretty tough. But when my name was finally called, I said, 'Time
to go to work.'"
Now the only question is where he'll be working.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Izzo shunned a $15 million offer from the Hawks to defend his championship at Michigan State.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Preventing the gifted 6'10" Lewis from taking flight from their frontcourt is the Sonics' highest priority.
Around The Rim
Pacers president Donnie Walsh declined an invitation from the
Nets to talk about succeeding their president, Michael Rowe. But
Walsh did recommend his G.M., David Kahn, who will interview
with New Jersey when Indiana's season ends....
Timberwolves assistant Sidney Lowe is quietly meeting with teams
that have coaching vacancies. He interviewed with the Hawks and
was scheduled to speak with the Grizzlies, whose president, Dick
Versace, has made it clear he will not coach....
How's this for a wake-up call for Heat point guard Tim Hardaway,
who will be a free agent this summer: Miami coach Pat Riley
doesn't think Hardaway has dedicated himself enough to his
rehabilitation from injuries. "He's always a bit over what we
want him to be playing at weightwise," Riley says. "I think if
he wants to save his career, he's going to have to do something
night and day."...
League MVP Shaquille O'Neal, whose contract expires in
2003, is eligible for a three-year extension worth $83.5
million, but Lakers sources say it's unlikely he will receive
all of that, because team owner Jerry Buss has vowed he will not
pay a luxury tax.