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.”

Now, Brooks coaches two of the NBA’s greatest talents, yet Musselman’s son sees his father’s philosophies regarding how to exploit individual matchups and attack defenses when he watches the Thunder play.

His father once went into a game that inaugural season determined to give big man Randy Breuer the ball until he forced Golden State coach Don Nelson to double-team the center. Nelson refused, so Bill Musselman called the same play all afternoon, until veteran referee Mike Mathis ran down the court calling out “Five Down” himself and until Breuer scored a career-high 40 points in a Wolves’ loss.

“Watch where he puts Durant in different spots on the floor to exploit mismatches,” said Eric Musselman, who coached Golden State and Sacramento and now is an Arizona State assistant. “I know a lot of what Tom Thibodeau did, he learned in those first two years. I’d like to think my dad was way ahead of his time with a lot of things he didn’t get credit for.”

Many branches

Thibodeau, Brooks and Corbin are part of a Musselman coaching tree that not only includes that collection from those early Wolves teams but also Saunders and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle as well.

Saunders played for Musselman more than a decade earlier at the University of Minnesota and credits him with convincing him to leave college coaching for a CBA job that paid half the money. Without that move to the pros, Saunders is certain his long NBA coaching career never would have happened.

“People talk about Pop’s tree,” Saunders said, referring to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, under whom Cleveland’s Mike Brown, Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn, Philadelphia’s Brett Brown and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer all learned. “Bill had like six guys who were NBA coaches, and how many years did he coach in the NBA?”

Musselman lasted less than four seasons with Cleveland and the Wolves in a nomadic coaching career that took him from colleges and pro’s minor leagues to the NBA and back again. Yet 25 years later and long after he died in May 2000 at age 59, Musselman’s strategies and competitive spirit remain part of those he coached briefly long ago.

“I hope his determination, his work ethic,” Corbin said when asked what part of Musselman might be in him as a coach. “He was a tough, tough guy. He had his way of doing things and that was it. He was going to do it his way regardless. These days, you have to be more inclusive.”

Who else would have provoked an opposing player to challenge him to a fight after a game like Utah’s Bob Hansen did long ago one night in Salt Lake City? Hansen approached the Wolves’ bench enraged after Musselman screamed to one of his players, “You just got beat by the worst offensive player in the league.”

“He was funny in that way, people would tell me, ‘Coach Musselman is crazy,’ ” said Lowe, the Wolves’ original point guard and former head coach. “He’d tell a guy he couldn’t make that shot. But if you came back and made a jumper right in his face and said something back to him, he’d love you forever. He’d admire you for your toughness, that you took everything he said and put it right back in his face.”

Those players from those first two teams took the crazy and the sane things their coach did and said they used it to build lives from the same craft.

“What were the odds of all us guys?” said Roth, an original Wolves forward and longtime NBA assistant. “At the time, you wouldn’t have thought it but now if you think back, it translates that we all went down that path. He was a coach who demanded cerebral players — extremely smart, hard-working guys — not just good basketball players. It all makes sense so many guys went into coaching and are doing pretty well at it.

“If he was alive, he’d probably be smiling, and he probably wouldn’t be too surprised about it, actually.”











 

  • related content

  • Video: Wolves Daily: All-Star weekend begins in New Orleans

    Friday February 14, 2014

    Kevin Love is in New Orleans to start in an All-Star Game for the first time on Sunday. Beat...

  • 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

NY Jets 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
LA Clippers 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Portland 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Orlando 6:00 PM
Cleveland
Phoenix 6:30 PM
Toronto
New York 7:00 PM
Houston
Indiana 7:30 PM
Dallas
Chicago 8:00 PM
Utah
Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
Boston
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Detroit
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Florida
East Carolina 49 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Nevada 56 FINAL
Weber State 59
Evansville 58 FINAL
Fresno State 52
Purdue 79 FINAL
Kansas State 88
Dillard 54 2nd Half 5:00
Alcorn State 75
Clemson 59 2nd Half 1:27
LSU 57
Georgia State 42 2nd Half 16:41
Chicago State 18
MD-Eastern Shore 31 2nd Half 18:45
Detroit 31
Missouri 11 1st Half 9:04
Arizona 17
Austin Peay 3 1st Half 16:15
Indiana State 9
Milwaukee 5:00 PM
Louisiana
Marist 5:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Gardner-Webb 5:30 PM
Old Dominion
Hampton 6:00 PM
Appalachian St
Grambling St 6:00 PM
Ball State
FIU 6:00 PM
Ga Southern
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Colgate 6:00 PM
James Madison
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona State 6:00 PM
Maryland
Santa Clara 6:00 PM
Michigan State
Western Carolina 6:00 PM
Oakland
SE Louisiana 6:00 PM
Tenn Tech
Bucknell 6:00 PM
Toledo
Villanova 6:00 PM
VA Commonwealth
Nicholls 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
Winthrop
Murray State 6:00 PM
Xavier
Eastern Wash 6:30 PM
Indiana
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Baylor
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Belmont
Brown 7:00 PM
Illinois
Pepperdine 7:00 PM
Iowa
Rider 7:00 PM
Kansas
Prairie View 7:00 PM
Memphis
Clayton State 7:00 PM
Miss State
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
TCU
TX A&M-Int 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Oregon State 7:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Hawaii 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Seton Hall 8:00 PM
Illinois State
NJIT 8:00 PM
Marquette
Stetson 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Pittsburgh 8:00 PM
Chaminade
Alabama 8:30 PM
Iowa State
Michigan 8:30 PM
Oregon
Colorado Christian 8:30 PM
Northern Colorado
Chadron State 8:30 PM
South Dakota St
Western Mich 9:00 PM
San Diego
SIU Edwardsville 9:05 PM
Portland State
Tulsa 10:00 PM
Auburn
BYU 10:30 PM
San Diego St
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Montreal 24 FINAL
Hamilton 40
Edmonton 18 FINAL
Calgary 43
Grambling 51 FINAL
George Washington 89
Saint Louis 57 FINAL
Vanderbilt 75
NW Nazarene 63 2nd Half 2:32
Idaho State 83
Millersville 0 1st Half 20:00
Delaware State 0
NC State 5:00 PM
Tulane
Harvard 5:00 PM
(2) Notre Dame
Austin Peay 5:00 PM
Chattanooga
Brescia 5:00 PM
Morehead St
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
(4) Tennessee
Troy 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Sam Houston St 6:00 PM
South Dakota St
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
Longwood
Rhode Island 6:00 PM
Columbia
Western State 6:00 PM
Northern Colorado
TX A&M-CC 6:00 PM
Rice
Cornell 6:00 PM
Fairfield
St Johns 6:00 PM
Marist
Bradley 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Mount Ida 6:00 PM
UMass Lowell
Thomas (GA) 6:00 PM
Georgia State
Loyola-Maryland 6:00 PM
(10) Maryland
Barton 6:00 PM
UNC-Asheville
Campbell 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
North Florida 6:00 PM
Samford
Prairie View 7:00 PM
(7) Texas A&M
Eastern Washington 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Cal-Irvine 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Quinnipiac 7:00 PM
Holy Cross
East Tenn St 7:05 PM
Indiana State
(5) Stanford 8:00 PM
New Mexico
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Cal State Fullerton 8:00 PM
Weber State
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: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close