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Continued: A whole new ballgame for NBA-bound college coaches

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 26, 2014 - 11:59 PM

Florida lost three games all season.

“You can lose four, five games in eight days in our league,” Saunders said. “In our league, the big thing is how you respond when you lose, not when you win.”

It’s enough to make a college coach’s head spin.

“The coaches who do come here from college were very successful there, and they’re not used to playing and losing that many games,” recently retired Wolves coach Rick Adelman said last season. “You have to learn to adjust.”

It’s good to be King

You’ve probably heard the term “power coach,” a phrase seldom uttered in the NBA unless mention is made of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich or perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers.

It’s almost mutually exclusive to college basketball’s most successful coaches, men who rule teenagers and sometimes their universities with impunity because of their lavish salary and tenure.

Both of those qualities — at least comparatively in an NBA where the best-paid players make five times or more than nearly all coaches — are rare in the pro league where millionaire players rule.

“It’s a player’s league,” Adelman said. “You better figure that out.”

Head coaches who have been promoted from an NBA assistant’s job seemingly have more success than a coach directly from college.

“It’s apples and oranges, a totally different game in so many ways,” said Toronto assistant coach Bill Bayno, an assistant to Calipari at Massachusetts and a former UNLV head coach. “In college, you’re worried about academics, recruiting, player management. Here it’s all basketball. In college, you have to keep it simpler. Here you can get so much more complex if you have a veteran team. In college, you have to be a dictator because you have 18-, 19-year-old kids, a lot of them come from broken homes that don’t have dads.

“Here you can’t be a dictator. You’re more of a manager. I always remember what Chuck Daly [the former Detroit Pistons coach who died in 2009] said about the NBA: You have to get past mad. In college, you’ve got to get mad. That’s a huge adjustment. It’s just different. You’re not going to figure it out in two or three years, especially if your team is rebuilding.”

Practice time disappears

College teams often play twice a week and their coaches teach the rest of the week. NBA teams can play five times in a week, and between travel and games, practice time is rare.

That’s a difficult transition for many college coaches.

“The NBA is a different coaching animal completely,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” last week. “When you go from college to the NBA, it’s almost a foreign sport. You’re managing people who play over 100 games and are really not into practicing as much as college kids are, because college kids are looking to practice as much as they can to try and make the NBA. At the pro level, they’re trying to stay away from injuries and protect their bodies.

“Practice in the pros becomes a walkthrough. That’s what the college coaches don’t realize, how much of a different game it is. The pros are almost like being a CEO: You’re managing people to get the most out of them emotionally, physically, strategically, wherein college you’re constantly trying to improve the skills on the athletes on a daily basis.”

Pitino said the NBA landscape changed in 10 years’ time from when he accepted his first NBA job with a Knicks team in 1987 that had Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Mark Jackson until he returned to coach the Celtics a decade later.

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