OKLAHOMA CITY – Billy Donovan knows what it takes to succeed as a young coach, so when he says Ryan Saunders will be just fine, believe him.
Donovan coaches the Oklahoma City Thunder, the host team Tuesday in the 32-year-old Saunders’ debut as a head coach. But he was only 28 when he got his first head coaching job, at Marshall. Two years later he moved to the University of Florida.
To him, it seems like a long time ago.
“I don’t remember when I was 32,” he joked before the game. “Ryan will do a great job. Obviously, he comes from a great pedigree, with his dad [Flip Saunders]. He was around him for a long time, and he was around [predecessor Tom Thibodeau]. So I’m sure he’ll do a good job.”
Donovan has been there. He played for Rick Pitino at Providence, a point guard on a team that reached the Final Four. He was Pitino’s assistant at Kentucky, which prepared him for his shot at being a head coach.
“I was 28 when I was a head coach, but I really felt, looking back on it, that [Pitino] did a great job of preparing assistants for head coaching jobs.”
All in moderation
Certainly fans will see some changes as Saunders gets more comfortable with his new position. He will tweak the Wolves’ offense and defense, perhaps adjust the rotations.
But Saunders is determined not to do too much too soon. Saunders is very aware of balancing wanting to do things his way with not overloading the team in the middle of the season.
“I think the thought right now is, just in moderation,” Saunders said. “I’ve said a number of times, you have ideas. But, until you’re ultimately making the decisions, those ideas all sound great. But then you have to see them play out.’’
With 5:16 left in the third quarter and the Wolves down four, Andrew Wiggins drove to the hoop. Nerlens Noel went up to contest the shot, then fell hard after getting elbowed in the face by Wiggins. His head bounced off the floor but he was still called for the foul on the play.
The game was halted while Noel was tended to by medical personnel, ultimately getting wheeled off on a stretcher with his head immobilized.
• In a sign he is getting nearer to a return, Wolves guard Derrick Rose was active but did not play Tuesday.