When basketball coaches struggle with a message of team play and selflessness, they now have the ultimate teaching tool.
The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
With the Spurs’ five-game romp over the Miami Heat fresh in mind, Big 12 coaches took turns on Tuesday marveling at the process.
“It not only has an impact on coaches but players who watched the games,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “They prove that every man is important, every player on the roster had some kind of impact on the championship.”
From the future Hall of Fame trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to series MVP Kawhi Leonard and role players Patty Mills, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and Marco Belinelli, everybody pitched in something at some point in the postseason.
Kansas coach Bill Self got a firsthand look at the crowning achievement. He attended the game-five clincher in San Antonio and sat with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, a former Jayhawks assistant who was in Lawrence when Self served as a graduate assistant in 1986.
Self saw the Spurs fall behind by 16 in the first quarter and win by 17. For the series, San Antonio shot 52.8 percent from the floor, 46.6 percent from three-point range and averaged an assist on more than half of their shots. The Spurs’ average victory margin of 17.5 points was a record for an NBA Finals series.
In the process, San Antonio’s team defense, preached by coach Gregg Popovich, limited the two-time defending NBA champion Heat, especially those players not named LeBron James.
“I think what Pop and the Spurs have done is make it easier for college coaches to coach,” Self said. “If you listened to him during the time outs, you heard, “The ball can’t stick!’”
That’s a Kansas mantra during practices, Self said. Sometimes it carries into games; sometimes it doesn’t. Now, there’s proof of success at the highest level.
“Everybody appreciates how they shared the ball, made the extra pass, simplified the game,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “It’s especially true for young players. Freshmen learn quicker when they see how things are done in the NBA.”
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins took note of the unselfishness of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, and how they cheered and encouraged teammates when not playing.
“That’s all of our hopes,” Huggins said. “We continue to foster an attitude that it’s team first. We’ve all had teams where that was the case and all had teams where that wasn’t the case. Frankly, it’s more fun to watch a team play the game right.”
Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith understood that young talent may not see the Spurs in the same light, and that NBA aspirants would be more attracted to the Heat and James.
“Depends on who you were pulling for,” Smith said. “Some kids, their idols were LeBron James, (Chris) Bosh, Dwyane Wade. The NBA is individual and they highlight an individual player,” Smith said.
But Smith said he’s already seen an impact on the kids who attend the Red Raiders’ summer camp.
“I can see it with the campers,” Smith said. “We teach ball movement, the passing game, motion offense, share the ball, pass and cut. I’ve see a real difference with the young kids.
“Hope our players will appreciate it also. … The Spurs epitomize how the game should be played.”