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Archive for Monday, October 15, 2007

Commentary: Ex-Tiger Snyder back in coaching

Spurs’ executive Buford now boss of player who declined his invitation to play for Kansas

October 15, 2007

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More than 20 years ago, Quin Snyder decided not to entrust R.C. Buford with his basketball future.

But now, in a way, Buford is entrusting Snyder with his. Back when they first saw each other in a high school gym in the early 1980s, neither could have seen this day coming. Snyder was 16 years old ("the skinniest kid I'd ever seen," Buford said later), and Buford was barely out of college. Together, they seemed more likely to end up forming a failed new-wave band than formulating organizational strategies for America's most successful pro franchise of the 21st century.

Then came the sort of rejection that usually ends relationships for good. After months and years of letters, phone calls and in-person visits, Snyder announced he was turning down a scholarship offer from Kansas University, where Buford was an assistant coach, and going to Duke instead.

Years later, when Snyder became the head coach at Missouri and hit the recruiting trails himself, he began to realize how Buford must have felt.

"When a kid doesn't come, it hurts," Snyder said. "You put a lot of time into it, a lot of your heart into it. But R.C. and I stayed close, and that was thanks to him."

Even though Snyder grew up on the West Coast and went to college in the east, he spent the summers living in Kansas at Buford's house, working the Jayhawks' camps. And eventually, both would get a life-changing moment courtesy of then-KU coach Larry Brown.

In 1989, Buford received a spot on Brown's staff when he took over the Spurs, a break that would lead to Buford becoming one of the NBA's most respected general managers. As for Snyder? He married Brown's daughter.

So with that shared history, Buford was excited last spring when the owner of the NBDL's Austin Toros told him he was considering Snyder as the team's new head coach. At the time, the Toros were still only an affiliate of the Spurs, so Buford had no authority to hire his old friend. But based partly on Buford's recommendation, Snyder got the job, and when the Spurs bought the Toros this summer, Snyder was brought into the franchise's inner sanctum.

As the coach in Austin, Snyder will be the man in charge of molding some of the organization's youngest players and acclimating them to the Spurs' system.

"We want to make sure as we approach this to really give it a wide spectrum to grow from," Buford said of the NBDL. "We don't want to limit it."

To those who remember Snyder's college coaching stint at Missouri, his inclusion in that process may come as a bit of a surprise. He had a successful run, leading the Tigers to four consecutive NCAA tournament berths. But his teams were usually guard-oriented, and at the end of his tenure, the program had evolved into what he labeled last week as "chaos."

First there was a controversy involving Ricky Clemons, who accused MU assistants of paying players (although NCAA never found evidence). Then there was his 2005-06 season, which ended with AD Mike Alden sending a radio announcer to tell Snyder he was out.

Snyder, who at 40 can still pass for a grad student, took a year off, and said he used the time to "process some things and see how (he) felt about the game." With a law degree and an MBA from Duke, he didn't have to coach again. But he decided he wanted another shot.

He visited the Spurs' practices last postseason, and he was so excited about this month's training camp, he said, "I felt like a little kid going to the first day of school, laying out my sneakers and my socks." After all these years, Buford still wants Snyder around. And this time, the skinny kid has no intention of turning him down.

- Mike Finger is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. His columns can be read at www.mysanantonio.com

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