Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stan Van Champion?

Got this email from Chris Earl today:

Tellin’ you, Scott.

Stan Van Gundy will hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy in his hands in 10 days ...

And it will be a glorious day. A glorious day.

Here is my enduring memory of Stan Van Gundy: It's New Year's Eve 1994. My parents had gotten me tickets for the UW-Marquette game, and we're sitting at the Bradley Center watching the Badgers get their asses kicked soundly by MU, with the crowd full of former, current, and future dentists and xylophone players giving me and my fellow Badgers all sorts of hell.

And what comeback did we have? Here we had a future NBA All-Star, Michael Finley; the most highly-recruited player ever to matriculate at Madison, Rashard Griffith; experience in Andy Kilbride and Brian Kelley; and a promising point guard in Darnell Hoskins. And when it was all said and done, Stan Van Gundy had led this crew to a losing record.

How did that happen? How did he get the Magic, minus their All-Star point guard; with a center who previously couldn't shoot free throws; with two soft forwards; with J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus playing key minutes at shooting guard; how did he get this team to the Finals, where they have a decent shot at upsetting the Lakers?

Maybe the guy can actually coach. The huddle shots during the Eastern Conference finals showed two different coaches -- Van Gundy feverishly encouraging his team, drawing up plays in one, Mike Brown standing back while his players appeared to run things in the other. Stan drew up some awesome plays; I forget which game it was, but he drew up a halfcourt play that got Rashard Lewis open for a go-ahead 3-pointer that was a thing of beauty.

Maybe he just didn't get a fair shake in Madison. If memory serves, he was retained after Stu Jackson's departure to keep Rashard around and keep the key recruiter on Sam Okey around. But he obviously was lacking at the time in either the X's and O's department (doubtful) or the chemistry-fostering department (more likely). Also, despite the star power on the roster, there was little or no depth, and key players like Kilbride and Kelley had limited games.

It would have been interesting to see what Stan would have done had he been given the chance to lead the Wisconsin program for a few years. The program and roster obviously took a completely different direction with the arrival of Dick Bennett, one which led to more sustained success than the program has ever seen, success which continues today. But given the coaching chops Van Gundy has shown since, it's a decent bet that we would have seen similar success, just in a very different way.

We'll see about your prediction, Chris, but if Stan is holding that trophy in two weeks, I'll be most excited to see the endorsement deals he ends up with. Subway, anyone?


Edward said...

No reappraisal. I was Frosh for his year there. He really, truly was a terrible coach. And I believe to my bones that the only reason he is an NBA coach was his friendship with Pat Riley and nothing to do with his coaching "skills" What a disappointing season that was.

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