Musselman hatched improbable cradle of NBA coaches

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 12:33 AM

Six Bill Musselman disciples from the Wolves’ first two years have become NBA head coaches.

At first glance, the Timberwolves’ team photos from their first two seasons long ago look like any other typical ones that adorn arena walls or media-guide pages, except for the fade haircuts and short shorts that reveal their historical time and place.

But look more closely and start circling some of those young, smiling faces and you’ll discover an NBA expansion team that doubled as an incubator for future coaches.

Six of those smiling faces — four players and two young assistant coaches — went on to become NBA head coaches, and four others coach or coached as league or college assistants. One of the former players, Scott Brooks, coaches Oklahoma City and will direct the West in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was one of them, a 27-year-old former Harvard assistant who landed his first NBA job on original Wolves coach Bill Musselman’s staff after he regularly drove 150 miles from Boston to Albany, N.Y. to observe Musselman’s meticulous CBA practices.

In the 25 years since he was part of the inaugural Wolves team, Thibodeau won a 2008 NBA title while coordinating the Boston Celtics’ defense, then won 62 games and Coach of the Year honors in his rookie season as an NBA head coach and led the East in the 2012 All-Star Game.

“You look at those photos,” he said recently, “and it’s pretty unbelievable.”

He and Musselman’s son, Eric, were the two assistants on those early Wolves teams who became NBA head coaches. So, too, did players Brooks, Sam Mitchell, Tyrone Corbin and Sidney Lowe. All of them except for Corbin found their way into the NBA by playing in the CBA for the former Gophers coach, who seemingly walked that fine line between genius and madman.

Four other players on those first two Wolves teams — Tony Campbell, Tod Murphy, Doug West and Scott Roth — also coached, at every level from high school to the NBA.

On Sunday in New Orleans, Brooks will coach the West in the All-Star Game for the second time in three years.

It’s partly a perk of the job when you coach superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and partly the product of a lifetime’s dedication for a player who perhaps wasn’t good enough to play in the NBA but lasted for 25 years anyway as a backup point guard and coach, thanks in part to Musselman’s fierce, guiding hand.

“He was one of the most disciplined, tough-minded coaches I ever played for and he put you in situations where you were either going to man up or you were going to crumble and quit,” Brooks said, “He separated you pretty quickly.”

Anything’s possible

Those first two Wolves teams were short on talent but long on smart, driven players, most of whom Musselman coached in the CBA. Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders calls those players “underdogs” who reminded Musselman of himself.

“He always believed there wasn’t anything you couldn’t accomplish,” Saunders said. “Most of his guys who became coaches probably overachieved in their careers.”

Together, those players were bound by their passion for the game, their uncertain futures and by their athletic limitations.

“If I were to go back 25 years and look around the locker room, all I saw was a bunch of guys who were trying their best to stay alive in the NBA, to keep a job, to feed their families,” said Campbell, the star scorer on that inaugural Wolves team who found NBA success after playing for Musselman in the CBA and who now coaches at a Brooklyn, N.Y., prep school. “To see how guys have endured through whatever means they needed to and end up as coaches is a testament to their hard work and their steadfastness.”

Those first two Wolves teams won 22 and 29 games, probably many more than they should have given their athletic talent. They did so through hard work, by thinking the game and surviving Musselman’s demanding practices in which they’d — five players against none — run a single play out of a thick, 150-item playbook over and over until boredom set in, just so he’d be certain they would execute it under any amount of pressure.

“If you’re judging on running and jumping and dunking, we weren’t a talented group,” Brooks said. “But I always judge talent on your effort, and you can have as much talent as some of the most talented athletes in the league, but if you don’t play with effort, you’re wasting your talent. He never allowed any of us to waste any of our talent.”

  • related content

  • Chart: NBA All-Star weekend

    Thursday February 13, 2014

    All-Star weekendFriday6-8 p.m.: All-Star Celebrity game (ESPN)8-10 p.m.: Rising Stars Challenge (TNT)Saturday1:30-3:30 p.m.: D-League All-Star game (NBA TV)7-10 p.m.: All-Star...

  • Chart: The Bill Musselman coaching tree

    Thursday February 13, 2014

    The bill Musselman Coaching treeAssistant coaches Tom Thibodeau and Eric Musselman from the Timberwolves’ first two teams long ago went...

  • Six members of Bill Musselman’s Timberwolves teams of 1989-90 and 1990-91 went on to become NBA head coaches.

  • The 1990-1991 Timberwolves had five future NBA head coaches. Front row, circled from left to right: Tom Thibodeau, Tyrone Corbin. Second row, circled from left to right: Sam Mitchell, Scott Brooks, Eric Musselman. A sixth, Sidney Lowe, played on the 1989-90 team.

  • nba all-star game

    7 p.m. Sunday in New Orleans • TV: TNT

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 106 FINAL
Boston 101
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
Indiana 94
Portland 110 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Orlando 83
Oklahoma City 96 4th Qtr 5:56
LA Lakers 87
New Orleans 21 2nd Qtr
Denver 16
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 3 FINAL
Florida 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 2nd Prd 5:32
Washington 2
Anaheim 0 1st Prd 8:42
Dallas 0
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Vancouver
SMU 73 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 66 FINAL
Wake Forest 69
Oregon 53 2nd Half 10:22
Stanford 51
Purdue 35 2nd Half
Ohio State 23
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Colorado
Washington St 8:30 PM
UCLA
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
UMBC 73
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 56 FINAL
(13) Kentucky 67
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which is your favorite 'return' by a Minnesota athlete?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close