View Full Version : Nate MacMillan teaching uncool basketball.

10-09-2005, 01:49 PM
I thought this was interesting. This is why he's a good coach.


Changing the definition of 'cool'
Nate McMillan eschews the "pro game" in favor of teaching basketball basics

Sunday, October 09, 2005

At least not on the basketball court. Not as long as they are playing under new coach Nate McMillan.

Don't believe it?

Ask Darius Miles, who is heaving for air after running a lap around the practice court for making a nonchalant cut through the key.

Or ask Juan Dixon, who was chastised by McMillan after casually flipping a one-handed pass to a teammate on the wing.

Or, more important, listen to McMillan unsettle the dust from the rafters of the Linfield College gymnasium with a booming diatribe.

"No! No! No!," McMillan shouts, the gym becoming silent. "I'm sick of these NBA cuts. These NBA passes. These NBA warmups. Do the (expletive) the right way! If we practice the right way, we are going to play the right way. If we drill the right way, we are going to play the right way."

The Blazers are a captivated audience as McMillan pauses for effect, looking each player in the eye as he struts from halfcourt to the free throw line, where the team's offensive play was stopped by McMillan's thunder.

McMillan further hammers his point home, mimicking the look-cool pass of Dixon, the half-hearted swagger of Miles' cut.

"We're coming down here, making this pass, yeah, we're cool. Making this cut, looking cool. Nah. It doesn't work like that," McMillan says, again pausing for effect while staring incredulously at his players. "All this time we have put in doing this stuff is going to be for nothing if that's the way we are going to do things."

These are NBA players, yes, but they also are the Blazers, a team that won 27 games last season, one during which they averaged 16 turnovers, fourth most in the NBA. So when the Blazers this summer lured McMillan from Seattle, they hired not only the coach who helped the SuperSonics have the fifth fewest turnovers in the NBA, but also the man who is convicted enough to strip every layer of coolness -- or "the pro game" as McMillan says -- from the Blazers, until all that's left is their talent.

See, McMillan hates the way NBA players warm up, by merely showing up on the court and going through the layup motions because it is so easy. He hates the way NBA players have blurred every fundamental -- from passing, catching or running a play -- to where the league looks more like street ball than the world's most talented collection of players.

"It's a big part of our league," McMillan said later. "We are so concerned with how we look to people as opposed to going out there and getting the job done. We are too cool to get on the floor for the ball, we are too cool to communicate to each other on the floor, we are so concerned with looking a certain way.

"It's that 'pro' thing, and that doesn't win games."

McMillan is using training camp, which started Tuesday, to drill his message into an impressionable group: nine of the Blazers' 16 players in training camp have played two seasons or fewer in the NBA, and the team's average age of just more than 24 makes the Blazers the second-youngest roster in the NBA to Atlanta.

And his message comes with credibility: he played 12 seasons in the NBA (1986-98) with Seattle, where twice he was chosen to the league's All-Defensive team, and where his No. 10 jersey hangs in the KeyArena rafters.

"What I want to do is change the attitude," McMillan said. "Change the attitude in the sense of this is the direction we are going to go, this is how we are going to play, this is how we are going to believe. But I can sit here and say all the things people want me to say and say what they want to hear, but the bottom line is people are going to be watching and waiting to see change."

A noticeable difference

Whether that change translates into immediate victories remains to be seen. Nobody is expecting overnight success, not with such youth and inexperience, and not from an overhauled team that won 27 games last season.

But second-year point guard Sebastian Telfair said change already has occurred.

"The thing that stands out is Nate, man, he don't take no junk," Telfair said. "There ain't gonna be no junk around here, so don't even expect to get away with it. And it ain't like he's a tough guy, that's not fair to say. He just wants to get the job done, and he will get the job done."

McMillan's method of accomplishment will be old school. While former Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy won with preparation and mid-game adjustments, and former Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks used his ability to relate to players to get them to play for him, McMillan will rely on the most basic of coaching techniques: teaching.

He stops a scrimmage to instruct the proper way to inbound a ball after a basket -- stressing that the inbounder must move from under the basket toward the sideline, in order to eliminate the angle in which a defender can steal the pass. He instructs the guard taking the inbound pass to have his butt toward the sideline, so he can see the court in front of him.

He demands two-handed chest passes. Two-handed catches. And the proper place to stand during a play to get optimum spacing of the defense.

Dixon, a free agent guard who played three years with Washington after winning an NCAA championship at Maryland, said he has been blown away.

"(Washington coach) Eddie Jordan taught a lot, (former Wizards coach) Doug Collins taught a lot, but Nate's teaching is at a different level," Dixon said. "He has station after station after station of drills, and every day you learn more about the game of basketball. He just teaches, teaches, and teaches. It feels more like a college atmosphere, and I love it."

And really, the college atmosphere is by design. Four important components of the Blazers -- Miles, Telfair, Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster -- never attended college, and two other pillars of the future, Zach Randolph and Joel Przybilla, entered the NBA after one year of college.

It's why Telfair has come to call the Blazers the "Toys R Us" team, saying, "You know, it's like each of us are about 12 (years old)."

"We don't know everything," Telfair said. "This is something we need."

But McMillan said even if he didn't inherit one of the NBA's youngest teams, he still would be harping on the fundamentals.

It's necessary, because a lot of these guys don't know," he said. "If you see them out there, I mean, we screw up, we don't have the proper footwork on defense, we trip over each other going through plays.

"In this league, a lot of guys play off their abilities, as opposed to the basics. The great players had the basics down. Larry Bird had the basics down. John Stockton had the basics down. Michael Jordan had the basics down. You would assume these guys know, and they should, but a lot of them don't. I don't want to assume they know, so we will cover it."

Games will bring tests

The McMillan era is fresh, and like most new coaches, he is enjoying a honeymoon of sorts, in which each player endorses the changes and buys into his system.

The challenge, of course, is when the season starts Nov. 2 at Minnesota, and playing time begins to be doled out, and rules begin to be enforced.

"I know I'm not going to be able to make everyone happy," McMillan said.

Ruben Patterson, who played one year under McMillan in Seattle, said there will be no questioning McMillan if playing-time issues arise.

"We've got too many guys who can play, so if one guy doesn't want to do it, he'll sit your butt down," Patterson said. "Everybody has to buy into his system, and if you don't you won't play for him. I mean, he sat Gary Payton."

And last season in Seattle, he banned cell phones on the team bus and told the equipment manager to stop ordering headbands after the team donned the accessory for turn-back-the-clock night, only to get blown out.

All the while, he hammered home the same principles as he does with the Blazers -- fundamentals, teamwork, precision.

It worked, as the Sonics, in McMillan's fifth year as coach, defied expectations and won the Northwest Division with a 52-30 record. But at least one player, Sonics forward Danny Fortson, said losing McMillan to the Blazers wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Nate got a little carried away," Fortson told Seattle reporters last week. "He wanted to prove his point to whomever . . . he had his little whipping stick out there."

McMillan chose to only chuckle at Fortson's claim. But he acknowledged there is validity to Fortson's issues. Because McMillan is demanding, because he is no-nonsense, he knows there is an inherent clash on the horizon.

"If you are continuing with repetition, then the players will get tired of it, and that's part of why I left Seattle," McMillan said. "I felt like I was hard, hard, hard on them, and I couldn't do it anymore because they were going to tune me out. After a few years of that, players are like, 'I've heard it before' and it just becomes noise."

McMillan has a five-year contract with the Blazers, and for now, the concentration is on the immediate future. And right now, that means running after turnovers in practice, sitting out drills if you can't remember the plays, and being fundamentally sound.

"Everybody in this league can jump, everybody can shoot," McMillan tells the team during a pause in practice. "What it boils down to is execution."

But already, the Blazers feel like the greatest move already has been executed by hiring McMillan. After watching four practices, general manager John Nash perhaps paid the greatest compliment.

"I feel better about our team today then I did two weeks ago," Nash said.

Jason Quick: 503-221-4372; jasonquick@news.oregonian.com

10-09-2005, 02:03 PM
Larry Brown's been doing the same thing with the Knicks. He was asked if Curry would be behind because he was essentially coming to camp four days late.

His answer amounted to, "No - we haven't put in any plays or offense. So far all we've done is work on basketball fundamentals."

10-09-2005, 02:07 PM
Larry doesn't bother with installing plays during the preseason. That's what the regular season, and playoffs for that matter, are for.

10-09-2005, 02:34 PM
"Uncool" basketball tends to also be "winning" basketball. That is assuming the coach gets the players' attention.


10-09-2005, 06:24 PM
talk about meticulous ...