NBA: A lot of Carolina blue at Camp Brown
WILMINGTON ó Dean Smith’s seat was directly at midcourt and a baby-blue sweater rested on his lap. Roy Williams, in a baby-blue polo shirt, sat to his left.
A few feet away, Larry Brown kept making the Charlotte Bobcats run, run and run some more. It was just like the kind of practices Smith used to lead.
Sure, the jerseys are orange and black. But Brown’s first training camp in his record ninth NBA head coaching job has a distinctly North Carolina feel.
“Carolina everywhere,” said point guard Raymond Felton, himself an ex-Tar Heel who won the national championship under Williams in 2005. “It’s good, man. Everybody’s in the building. Except they get on me at the end of the practice, with the little stuff.”
The small details ó and all the running ó have defined Brown’s first five practices after two years out of the game. Brown often stopped Thursday’s workout to get on players for being in the wrong spot, taking a shot too quickly or making the wrong decision on a play. Forward Sean May ó another North Carolina product ó caught the coach’s wrath for not moving enough on defense.
“We haven’t set a screen yet!” Brown yelled later in the workout.
And Brown’s mentor took it all in. The 77-year-old Smith watched intently as his protege got to work on resurrecting his career ó Brown got fired following one season, 23 wins and plenty of acrimony in New York in 2005-06.
“Everything I believe in came right out of his mouth,” Brown said of Smith, who declined to speak to reporters. “I talk to him all the time and he always does it in a respectful way. I just miss seeing him coach.”
The 68-year-old Brown, the only coach to win NCAA and NBA titles, has patterned much of his style after his college coach. Smith would rapidly install plays in the first week of practice, just like Brown has this week. Conditioning has been a major emphasis, but most of the running has come during drills, not sprints, like Smith ordered when he won two national titles and reached the Final Four 11 times with the Tar Heels before retiring in 1997.
“We’d rather do that (drills) than just running up and down the court without the ball,” Felton said.
But Felton has also learned this week that Brown can be relentless. Forward Nazr Mohammed, who played for Brown in Philadelphia, warned his teammates there’s no place to hide in a Brown practice.
“He’s one of the few coaches who don’t miss a thing. There are 10 guys on the court and he sees all 10 guys,” Mohammed said. “You never get away with loafing on a play, not knowing where you’re supposed to be. You’re never going to get a chance to take a break and hide out on offense, on defense, because he sees you.”
The obviously tired bodies Thursday proved his point. Brown relented with his players and canceled the night practice, but that meant the morning workout lasted more than 21/2 hours. In the 45 minutes that reporters were allowed to watch, they did one set of sprints, yet there was little down time with an energetic Brown bouncing around the floor and giving constant instruction.
Yes, Brown is a Hall of Famer and ranks fifth in NBA history with 1,010 wins. But he sorely missed coaching in the hiatus óthe longest of his career ó that followed the Knicks debacle. It took Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan, the Tar Heels’ prodigal son, to end his exile.
Brown brought up the subject himself this week when he was asked about the Bobcats’ 32-50 season a year ago that got rookie coach Sam Vincent fired.
“I wouldn’t be here if Michael worried about what I did my last year” in the league, Brown said. “He’s given me a chance.”
Brown has never stayed very long anywhere ó this is his 12th coaching job ó but except for New York, he’s won everywhere. He’s also often worn out his welcome, and he’s already questioned the Bobcats’ lack of offseason moves to beef up the frontcourt.
But determined to not have his career end on a sour note, he’s leaning on Smith, and all his Tar Heels connections, to help him get better.
Even after 2,384 games coached in the NBA, ABA and college.
“These two years,” Brown said, “afforded me an unbelievable opportunity to learn.”