O'Brien's mantra: details, details
Pacers say they like new coach's consistency, focus on little problems
By Mark Montieth
October 12, 2007
It's a simple remodeling project that speaks volumes about the Indiana Pacers' shift in focus.
The lounge adjacent to the locker room, where players once ate, relaxed and played video games, has been converted to a meeting room. Blue chairs are neatly arranged in a three-sided rectangle, facing a large screen in the middle of the far wall.
The players and coaches meet there before many practices and all games. The feature attraction is always the same: video replays of themselves.
"We don't like the word 'lounge,' " new coach Jim O'Brien said. "We took all sofas out of offices and lounges. We're not big on lounges. It doesn't send a great message, 'Come on in and hang out on the couch while we watch video.' "
The modification inspired a chain reaction of events. The walk-in closet that once housed basketball shoes has become a cramped food service area, and the shoes are now stored on shelves in the locker room.
As for the ex-lounge, the only adornment is a sign that reads "Good is the enemy of great." The room is no longer a place for hanging out.
"It's for teaching," O'Brien said. "We're doing basketball stuff now."
The Pacers are getting heavy doses of "basketball stuff" under O'Brien, who has brought a heightened emphasis on details, preparation and effort.
Quoting legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, O'Brien points out that details are the difference in one-point losses. He is looking to avoid as many of them as possible.
That's why he could be heard reminding players to get into a defensive stance during Wednesday's preseason win over New Orleans. That's why he is constantly reminding players to have active hands in practice. It's why fouls and traveling violations are called closely in scrimmages, so players don't develop bad habits.
It's the concept of addressing little things so that they don't add up to a big thing.
"All the coaches I've had have stressed them, but coach O'Brien really emphasizes them," Mike Dunleavy said. "He doesn't let up on it. (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski) was all about the little things, and this is probably the first coach I've had in the pros who's been really into the small stuff."
The details also include offcourt matters, such as starting practice at 10 a.m., an hour earlier than in previous seasons, and requiring players to arrive at scheduled times for treatments and pregame shooting sessions, with fines imposed on late arrivals.
O'Brien's disciplined approach is most similar to that of Larry Bird's coaching style, and more consistent and rigid than that of predecessors Isiah Thomas and Rick Carlisle.
"Rick's practices started at 11, but he went a little haywire there toward the end moving stuff around, and 12 became 12:30 or 1," Jeff Foster said. "Now we have a set schedule.
"It will be interesting to see what time practice will be when we land at 3 in the morning. That's what I'm looking forward to."
Foster probably doesn't have to worry. O'Brien scheduled Thursday's practice, which followed a game night, for 11 a.m., allowing an extra hour of sleep.
O'Brien has received no objections so far, as the players appear to appreciate his consistency and demanding nature.
"I've been around six years, and this is the hardest training camp I've been through," point guard Jamaal Tinsley said.
"If you're a man, you want somebody to be on you if they have your best interests (in mind). That's all you can ask for."
The Pacers experienced another example of O'Brien's approach Wednesday, when they had a regular practice session rather than a game-day shootaround before playing the Hornets. It will continue that way through the preseason.
"It was something that I appreciated," Tinsley said. "Hard work pays off, in any job. When you've got guys committed to working hard and they buy into what the coaching staff wants, it will pay off."
Jermaine O'Neal's knee injury doesn't appear to be serious, but David Harrison could be out awhile to allow his sprained ankle to heal. O'Brien said O'Neal asked to play Wednesday but was held out by the training staff.