Hill, Men's Basketball coaches sit down with NBA's Nuggets
By AARON LOPEZ
For two days, the Denver Nuggets locker room resembled a college classroom.
The course: Advanced Basketball Concepts 521.
At the urging of coach George Karl, the Nuggets coaching staff opened up their playbooks to about 20 coaches from Colorado State University, Metro State College, the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Wyoming. The Air Force Academy coaching staff also was invited but could not attend because of scheduling conflicts.
"George wanted to keep our minds active and focused on basketball," said Nuggets advance scout/assistant coach Jesse Mermuys, who coordinated the event. "Coach is also about giving back to the game of basketball. Giving back to your state is pretty big-time. It could help the college guys and it could help us as well."
Offense was the topic of Day 1 as Nuggets assistants John Welch and Chad Iske led discussions about the pick-and-roll, playing at a fast pace and the merits of spacing the floor and attacking the rim at every opportunity.
"I thought we'd be putting on a clinic for the college coaches, but it was cool how much I learned," Welch said. "It opened up some relationships that will continue and be beneficial to both sides."
On Day 2, assistant Melvin Hunt talked about how the Nuggets like to defend the pick-and-roll and the low post. The dialogue was interactive as the college coaches offered their own viewpoints and debated the pros and cons of various strategies.
"There really isn't ever a bad time to talk hoops if people are open," said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, who was a top assistant at Florida when the Gators won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. "Some people are very territorial, but this has been very open and everyone is willing to throw in their chips."
While Shyatt made the drive from Laramie, Metro State coach Derrick Clark simply walked across the street. Clark was a longtime assistant under former Metro State coach Mike Dunlap, who was on Karl's staff in Denver from 2006-08.
"I was very flattered for the Nuggets to think of us," Clark said. "I respect what they do over here. For Coach Karl to extend an invitation says a lot about him."
Karl, one of just seven coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 regular-season games, has always been an advocate of giving back to the game. It is a tenet of "The Carolina Way" taught by Hall of Fame North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
"Probably twice a year, Coach always said go back and thank someone who helped you," said Karl, who played for Smith from 1969-73. "Make sure you touch someone through the game of basketball. That message sticks with you."
Though firm in his philosophical basketball beliefs, Karl always has been willing to adapt in his pursuit of a championship. When the NBA approved zone defenses before the 2001-02 season, he and his Milwaukee Bucks coaching staff met with Milwaukee-area college coaches to share their ideas.
"I think it's good to participate and be involved with the college guys," Karl said. "Sometimes we have our separate worlds. I don't think that's necessary. There has to be some friendly territory, so we can assist and help the game and the profession."
Over the past several years, Karl and his staff have developed relationships with many local college coaches, but this marked the first time that they were able to gather in one room to talk shop and share trade secrets.
"We all want basketball to be better," DU coach Joe Scott said. "We all want to see the game grow. To get together and talk about basketball, it's a great thing. You can always get a little something from somebody else."
B.J. Hill, in his second season at Northern Colorado, was taking plenty of notes. Hill, 38, guided the Bears to their first Big Sky Conference championship and first NCAA Tournament appearance. He first met Karl and Welch last season but never had an opportunity to speak with them at length.
"Being a young head coach, to have access to all these resources is unbelievable," Hill said. "The knowledge in this room has won a whole lot of games in a lot of different ways. I feel fortunate to be invited to something like this."
Colorado coach Tad Boyle played golf with Karl at Boulder Country Club earlier this summer. They talked about getting together for a clinic, and Boyle was thrilled to bring four of his assistants to the Pepsi Center.
"Life's all about relationships and I think it shows great leadership by Coach Karl to put something like this together," Boyle said. "It's a great way to reach out to the basketball community in Colorado."
Karl is considering taking the outreach program one step farther. His coaching staff is in the initial stages of organizing a similar clinic for Colorado and Wyoming high school coaches. The Nuggets also have plans to host coaches from around the nation during the first week of October.
According to those who were in the room this week, the clinics are can't-miss events.
"It's an awesome opportunity," Colorado State assistant Niko Medved said. "When you come to something like this, you can always take away two or three things that you can incorporate into what you're doing. It's huge."
The Nuggets feel the same way and would like to make the clinics part of their annual coursework: Giving Back to Basketball 101.