A group of former NBA players recently debated on NBA TV on which city has the best hoops. Kenny Smith says it’s his native New York City, but Chris Webber argued for his hometown, Detroit.
Last month this columnist and Shawn Respert, a former Detroit Bishop Borgess High School star in the late 1980s, talked about being at the “Big House,” Cobo Hall and “Celiciaville” — sacred places in the Motor City like the Big Apple’s Madison Square Garden and Rucker Park.
Winning a city or league title in the “D” was equally important and oftentimes just as prestigious as any pro championship. It earned more than bragging
rights; rather, it was a fitfully earned badge of pride that would last a lifetime. “I think Detroit certainly has changed over the years,” said Respert, “but back then, it was a city that bred competitiveness.”
It was Spencer Haywood, Ralph Simpson, Johnny Davis and Terry Duerod who in my day we Detroiters watched with awe. “Coming out of middle school, these were the guys you watched play,” said Respert, the Minnesota Timberwolves player development coach.
“You wanted to be like them. You wanted to continue the legacy. The program I’ve had at Bishop Borgess I certainly treasure,” he noted.
From Borgess, Respert moved to Michigan State. There he scored 2,531 points from 1991-95. He was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in September.
After four NBA seasons (1995-99) and then four more years in Europe, Respert traded in his playing uniform for one typically worn on the sidelines — a suit and tie. “I finished nine and a half seasons, and probably could have played three or four more seasons. I just decided it was more important to be around my family.
“My grandfather was ailing at the time and I didn’t want to be away, and my son is getting older and starting school. It just felt like I was at a point in my life that it was time to move on.”
Respert came to Minnesota a season ago as player development coach after three seasons as Houston’s player programs director. Prior to that, the former 1995 NBA lottery pick (eighth overall by Portland) worked two years as NBA Development League basketball operations director, and two years before that in a similar position at Rice University.
What’s a player development coach do, you ask?
“It has changed since coming here,” explained Respert. “What I do now…my job is to look at the film, look at every single player [and] every single play and identify where the defense breaks down.” From that, he “keeps track of where we are making our mistakes. That report goes to the coaches and our management,” he pointed out, “to help try and identify where our weaknesses are.”
Let’s say the Wolves aren’t rebounding enough: “What I give them are details on why… Is it because of technique or we’re not boxing out?” explained Respert. “Is it a lack of focus or not paying attention to shots? Is it a lack of effort? If we can identify that, I feel that makes it even better without us guessing. We can specifically target certain drills.
“I also work on overall skill development,” continued Respert. “I work with guards, forwards and centers, every single player, and incorporate some things that are specialized in [Wolves Coach] Rich Adelman’s offense.”
Respert fully believes his pro playing experience “really helps, because I don’t have to waste time…trying to identify some of the things that we feel is very critical to making a good basketball player in this league.”
If becoming an NBA head coach is something that Respert someday aspires toward, it can’t hurt that he guided the Wolves’ summer league team this past summer to four wins in five games. He watched both Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo — his college coaches back at State — and marveled at how they worked with players.
“It’s been amazing the type of knowledge they have,” he said. “They helped me so much during my playing days. I think a lot of the reasons why I succeeded early in my [coaching] career was because of being able to have a coach who’s great with player development and skill development, as well as understanding how to manage a personal relationship between the player and the coach and the egos.
“Not every [former] player makes a good coach,” Respert said, concluding that his summer coaching experience “gave me confidence.”
Did you know…?
How many former Timberwolves players are now NBA coaches? (Answer in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s question: How many Black Gopher football players were named academic All-Americans? Omar Douglas made the 1993 second-team All-American academic team.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.