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Former Jayhawk responsible for Shaq's resurgence?
Fifty-three-year-old Alvin Gentry has been a basketball coach for more than half of his life — 29 years to be exact.
In that time, he has logged 20 seasons on an NBA bench, with most of those coming as an assistant.
That’s where he began the 2008-2009 NBA campaign, parked loyally next to new Phoenix Suns boss Terry Porter. Through the first half of the season things didn’t go exactly the way the Suns had hoped and Porter was dismissed, paving the way for Gentry to take over on an interim basis.
Now that you’ve been brought up to speed, let me take a 30-second timeout to explain why you might care.
After starting his career in 1977-78 as a graduate assistant at the University of Colorado, Gentry quickly worked his way up in the world and, by 1985, found himself sitting on the same bench as Larry Brown at Kansas University.
While at KU, Gentry was a part of one heck of a run. He helped lead the Jayhawks to two Final Fours (1986 and 1988) and was at Kemper Arena that April night in 1988 when the Jayhawks topped Oklahoma, 83-79, for the national championship.
Now, nearly 21 years later, Gentry’s still at it, working hard, dreaming big and smiling as much as ever with that signature wide-mouthed grin.
This isn’t Gentry’s first go-around as an NBA head coach but it has the look of his most successful, provided he can keep his early string of success rolling.
From 2000 to 2003 Gentry coached the Los Angeles Clippers to an 89-133 mark. Since taking over in Phoenix, Gentry’s Suns are 6-2 (34-25 overall), with the two losses coming to the Celtics and the Lakers. What’s even more impressive is the fact that three of those wins came with two-time league MVP Steve Nash in street clothes.
How’s he done it? Simple. By not trying to reinvent the wheel.
For the better part of this decade, the Suns have been a high-flying, fastbreaking, highlight-making team. Former coach Mike D’Antoni emphasized excitement and built the roster around it.
Porter, a great player with Portland in his day, decided to change all that. He emphasized defense, halfcourt sets and demanded intense focus on every possession. Not a bad strategy, just one that didn’t work for the Suns.
So Porter was canned and Gentry gave the team its identity back — with one twist.
It’s called “Seven seconds or less then seven seconds of Shaq.”
It’s meaning? Push the ball whenever possible and, if doing so presents a good shot in the first seven seconds of the shot clock, take it. If not, pull it out and run the halfcourt offense through one of the most dominant big men the game has ever seen — Shaquille O’Neal.
They make quite a fuss about coaching trees in the world of sports. Bill Walsh in the NFL and Dean Smith in college basketball seem to get the most pub.
But Gentry’s run — and his most recent success with the Suns — has to make you wonder why the limbs of Larry Brown’s tree don’t get more credit.