David Blatt is still largely an unknown commodity to NBA fans, but in the past week the mainstream media can’t seem to get enough of this mystery man. The story that everyone seems to know regarding the Framingham, Massachusetts native is one of success in stops all across club basketball in Europe, in addition to a 2007 EuroBasket title with the Russian National Team, and a Bronze medal with the Russians at the 2012 Olympics in London.
The word around Blatt is that he is an offensive savant, rooted in the ideals he learned as a player/English major at Princeton, and then fostered during his playing and coaching careers in Europe. But outside of his ability for offensive innovation, what makes Blatt tick is still a mystery.
HoopsHype.com sat down with Drew Nicholas, member of Maryland’s 2002 National Title winning team and former Blatt player about what it’s like playing for Coach Blatt.
Some highlights from the interview include:
• Blatt’s Brains – Nicholas begins the interview gushing over the mind of his former coach. He describes Blatt as “cerebral” and proclaims “his IQ in incredible”. He goes on to speak about Blatt’s desire to continually improve and adapt, something that was also touched on Zach Lowe’s interview with the Cavaliers’ coach over at Grantland.
Blatt explains, “I’m more from the adaptive school, with a few principles that are consistent throughout my career. But we have to see what the team looks like before I can tell you exactly how we’re gonna play.”Blatt’s ability to adapt to his personnel can be seen in his implementation of a full court pressing defense during one of his stops in Europe.
“It’s in the toolbox. I haven’t always used it. Sometimes we didn’t have the personnel for it. That particular year we had a tremendous lineup of guys that were athletic, and had length, and speed, and great anticipation. We pressed 40 minutes a game for the whole season.”
Coaches have always been famous for their systems. Dean Smith had his four corners, Bob Knight ran his motion to death, and we’re all familiar with the Phil Jackon triangle, but there’s something refreshing about a coach not set in his ways. The odds of survival increase for a coach who is willing to adapt to the landscape around him instead of cramming square pegs in round holes.
• Player’s coach – Drew Nicholas continues on in his interview on Blatt, telling a story reminiscent of Coach Herman Boone in Disney’s Remember the Titans. During his time playing for Blatt in Turkey, he recalls early season dinners where the six Americans on the team sat at one table while the six Turks sat at another. Nicholas says Blatt pulled him aside as a leader of the team and asked him to break down the cultural barriers with his teammates and lead the way in the mingling of the two groups.
It’s little things such as that which garners Blatt respect from his players and his peers. Blatt and LeBron did not speak before LeBron’s decision to come home, but Blatt is confident LeBron did his homework on his future coach and liked what he had found.
The Cavaliers head coach speaks to this in his interview with Lowe, “I know who he [LeBron] is, he knows who I am. He’s played against my teams. He knows almost everyone that I’ve coached, and I’m sure he was doing his homework. He didn’t need to make me an integral part of the decision, other than to know I was a guy he could work with. And that I could coach. And I’m sure he found that out.”
• Shots – In today’s now analytics driven NBA, one widely held philosophy is the more shots you take then the more chances you have to score. Nicholas reminisces of Blatt preaching to his team the need to get up 70-80 shots in a 40 minute game. This fast paced, shot chucking philosophy is something Nicholas believes will no doubt come with Blatt to Cleveland.
Despite his seemed love affair with getting up shots, and professing to Zach Lowe that “I do like the 3-point shot,” Blatt continued on to tell Lowe that he did not care where his team finishes in 3-point attempts and that “I want to win games. That’s it.”
• Passionate – Nicholas finishes the interview speaking to the passion that his former coach has for the game and for coaching itself. The joke around Summer League is that Blatt hasn’t sat down once while patrolling the sidelines for the Cavaliers in Vegas. He’s intense, passionate, and cares deeply for his profession. “It’s been a lifelong dream of his to get back to NBA” says Nicholas. “He wants to represent the European game which he’s grown up in as a player and as a coach.”
(Photo: Tony Dejak, AP / AP)