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Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Pritchard king among Knights

Former KU player wins ABA championship, coach of year honors

May 12, 2002

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Winning isn't everything to Kevin Pritchard.

It is the only thing.

"One of our players came up to me during the season and said to me, 'Kevin does not want to lose any games,''' Kansas City Knights owner Jim Clark said of former Kansas University basketball point guard Pritchard, named 2002 ABA Coach of the Year after leading the Knights to a 35-5 record and league championship.

The Knights, who went a perfect 21-0 at Kemper Arena, closed with 25 straight victories, the longest winning streak of any team in Kansas City professional sports history.

"It's hard to imagine being the owner of a franchise who's never seen his team lose a game. I never saw us lose this year," Clark said.

He made one road trip a playoff junket to Las Vegas where the Knights beat host Las Vegas, 110-101, in the ABA semifinals, and toppled Southern California, 118-113, in the championship game at Cox Pavilion.

"It really was a combination of superior coaching and general management and Kevin having a sense of what it would take to win all year long," Clark said. "I talked to Tex Winter (Los Angeles Lakers' assistant) and several NBA scouts who all said the same thing: 'Your team is extremely well coached.'"

The 34-year-old Pritchard he left the business world for his first coaching job with the Knights two years ago has quickly mastered the art of coaching.

His first Knights team went 24-17, finishing third in the ABA. His second team rolled to the title, coincidentally in Pritchard's first year with dual duties of coach/general manager.

"It was a lot of fun," Pritchard said. "Winning is always fun, but I truly loved coaching this team."

He also truly loved the win streak.

"It was really special," Pritchard said. "We started out 10-5 and we knew we had a really good team but we were not on the same page yet. The first month I was really trying to evaluate my team and see its strengths and weaknesses. What we discovered is I had two guys who could really score in Pete (Mickeal) and Maurice (Carter). I had eight guys work their tails off on defense and play absolutely unselfish basketball. We weren't the most talented team by any means but we were the best team.

"I had the best assistant coach in the minor leagues in Mike Born from Iowa State who was fantastic. I had guys like (former Jayhawks) Rex Walters, Nick Bradford plus Ryan Sears and Doug Smith who really know basketball.

"We got the streak to six or seven and became a really confident team. I let the reins go offensively telling Rex, Ryan and David Vanterpool to create on their own. I told 'em, 'You guys are responsible for getting us in a position to score on every possession.' I concentrated on coaching defense. As the season progressed I had a lot of confidence in my players making decisions."

Pritchard makes it sound as if he had to make precious few decisions, just making sure the ball was inflated prior to each game.

But in reality, he's been credited for some masterful coaching moves, including picking up a technical foul in the fourth quarter of the championship game, the Knights down eight and looking like they might suffer a shocking defeat.

"I told him he almost gave me a coronary," Clark said of his coach getting the last-quarter "T."

"Kevin to this day will tell you the story he realized he had to get a technical foul and get on the refs because in the final two minutes we got every call. They called a traveling violation on one of our players that caused Kevin to get the technical. He said, 'You could call that every time and you called it now?'

"With a minute and a half left they called a traveling violation on the other team probably because of that technical," Clark said.

Pritchard's version: "At the time I said what I said and I deserved it. We needed a little momentum change. Is it the reason why I got the 'T?' I don't know," Pritchard said.

KC's coach credited Walters and Carter for scoring 14 and 12 points respectively the final quarter of the title tilt.

Pritchard said he could see both those players, plus Mickeal, making NBA rosters next season. He definitely knows what he's talking about, having sent seven players to the NBA his first season and four more Donnie Marshall (Nets), Eddie Gill (Grizzlies), Doug Overton (Clippers) and Reggie Slater (Nets and Hawks) to the NBA this past campaign.

"I take great pride in that," Pritchard said. "We try to bring in good players, but players of great character. You win with character. Part of my job is to get those players to the next level."

Pritchard is planning on staying with the Knights next season.

The ABA expects to return for a third season and Pritchard who lives in Lawrence with wife, Shea, and their two children loves this part of the country.

"We will be back, no doubt, probably bigger," Pritchard said of the ABA. "The Knights are an interesting situation. In fact we are being actively recruited by other leagues. I am in a great position because except for maybe Mark Cuban (popular Dallas Mavericks owner) I have the best owner in sports. I consider us the mini-Mavericks.

"He (Clark) said no matter what Kansas City will have a team the next 10 years. He's made it clear he will build for the future, not one year and done or two years and done."

Clark indeed is in ownership for the long hall.

"We had two goals this year one, to win the ABA championship, and two, to be the best run franchise," Clark said. "Next year our goal is to repeat and be the best run minor league pro franchise in all of sports that has us competing not against just basketball but Triple-A baseball, hockey and soccer."

Pritchard has already started working on next season. He's spent the past four weeks after the title game not resting on his laurels but watching game films of the squad's final 25 games.

"I'm watching every game again to evaluate myself, what I could have done better," said Pritchard, who in viewing game films discovered the Knights lost just 13 quarters out of their final 100, including dropping just one fourth quarter.

His owner gives Pritchard an A-plus evaluation.

"We'd like him to retire as Kansas City Knights coach in 30 years," Clark said.

"I will coach until I can't coach any more," Pritchard said. "I love it. It absolutely is what I want to do with my life."

NOTES

l Pritchard said he would like to coach Walters and Bradford again next season. Walters averaged 14.0 points a game and Bradford added 10.6.

"They always have a home," Pritchard said. "Rex was great. He brings veteran leadership and really knows how to play. He had some sniffs from the NBA again this year. He still has a chance. Nick was awesome. Nick in the beginning was a little passive. As the season went on he was more aggressive. He brings a positive attitude. Whether he plays two or 35 minutes he's the same, positive person. I'd do anything I could to help those two guys."

l Pritchard also would love to coach KU senior Jeff Boschee, who is considered a possible second-round NBA draft pick.

"You can't help but love him," Pritchard said. "He is talented in the way he shoots the ball. Our league is so up and down the way we like to play he'd get a lot of shots off the secondary break."

Pritchard said former Jayhawks Adonis Jordan and Richard Scott, who play overseas, could someday wind up with the Knights.

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