Connection is Job One
New Bucks coach Drew believes in importance of relationships with players
Larry Drew acknowledges how essential coaches have been in the development of his career.
He has expressed his commitment to having the same sort of impact on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Drew, 55, was introduced Monday as the 13th head coach in Bucks franchise history, coming off a three-year stint as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.
"As a player and as an assistant coach, which I was for 17 years, one thing I tried to do was take a little bit of something from a lot of the coaches I've been around – guys I've played for and guys I've coached for," Drew said. "I looked at how they did things and tried to see what works and what doesn't work.
"One thing I can tell you that works is coach/player relationships. When a coach and a player are on the same page, you get good results from that player. A lot of that is just doing homework with the player and getting to know that player."
Drew's methods of accomplishing this mission – and even his perspective that it is important – vary dramatically from the unyielding, my-way-or-the-highway approach still employed by many of his NBA contemporaries.
"Establishing relationships is about going out to dinner with a player, or going to lunch with a player, or getting out there and shooting baskets with a player – just things that bond you with the player," Drew said. "It's something I've tried to do in all my years as a coach. And I do it because I care about these guys, not only as ballplayers, but as young men.
"This is a very, very tough business. I understand the ups and downs of it. I understand that they're not going to have it every night. These guys have to understand that I understand that."
Not all of Drew's coaches approached their job in the same way that Drew does today. On the contrary, one of the first coaches who had a profound impact on him was Norm Stewart, his coach at the University of Missouri. Stewart was about as harsh, demanding and old-school as they come.
"Norm Stewart was a real hard-nosed guy, a tough guy," Drew said. "He was one of those guys that some guys couldn't play for. As tough as it was with him, I can see how that kind of paved the way for me. If I could handle him or play for him, then everybody else was going to be a piece of cake. That was my mind-set.
"My dad always told me to go for what I believed in. That's what I did when I decided to go to Missouri and play for a no-nonsense guy -- a guy who, if I did something wrong, would always acknowledge it and make sure that I got back on the right track."
Under the tutelage of "Stormin' Norman," Drew took over as Missouri's point guard as a freshman and piloted the team to the Big Eight Conference Tournament title – following a sub-.500 conference regular season – as a sophomore.
As a senior, Drew earned all-Big Eight accolades and led a young squad to the conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen, including an upset of ninth-ranked Notre Dame in which Drew handed out 12 assists to set a school record.
During Drew's four seasons in Columbia, he became Mizzou's career leader in assists, steals, field goals, games played, starts and consecutive starts. He left the program as its second-ranking all-time scorer with 1,401 points and was selected in the first round of the 1980 National Basketball Association Draft by the Detroit Pistons with the 17th overall selection.
Following a difficult rookie season, Drew was traded to the Kansas City Kings. The deal not only gave him the opportunity to return to his hometown, but to play for a coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons, who was a renowned "player's coach."
"Cotton Fitzsimmons told me, ‘I believe in you,'" Drew said. "That's what really started my playing career."
Drew averaged team- and career-highs of 20.1 points and 8.1 assists per game with the Kings in 1982-83. He played 11 NBA seasons, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists in 714 career games for four teams and played one season in the Italian League.
Following his playing career, Drew became an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1992. He also served as an assistant to Alvin Gentry in Detroit, to Doug Collins in Washington, to Byron Scott in New Jersey and to Mike Woodson in Atlanta.
Drew was promoted to head coach by Atlanta in 2010 and guided the team to a 128-102 record and three consecutive playoff appearances over the ensuing three seasons.
During his years in Atlanta, he developed the coaching philosophy that he plans to employ in Milwaukee.
"First of all, it's important to understand today's players," Drew said. "I think it's important to recognize who the individual is. You're dealing with these guys as individuals and you have to approach it in that matter. For me, I've just seen how important it is to develop relationships with your players.
"You have to show a player that you care about him. You have to understand him. You have to be able to push buttons. Players are different. These guys are individuals. They're just different. It's important that you establish relationships and get to know your guys. On this level, relationships are just so, so important."
One of Drew's greatest coaching jobs may have come last season, when he overcame dramatic roster upheaval and numerous other roadblocks to guide the Hawks to a 44-38 record and a playoff berth.
"I thought this (past) season was probably more challenging than anything, given what the situation was," Drew said. "We had nine free agents, a coach going into the last year of his contract. It was our first year without Joe Johnson. Where were our points going to come from? Who were going to be our leaders?
"Then we lose two key players off our bench in Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia. That was tough. That was very tough. But yet, through all the adversity, we stayed together. A lot of people didn't think we were capable of winning. I had to shuffle things around. I believe I changed the lineup 29 times last season. But I was committed to doing whatever it took to make things work, and our guys bought into that."
As Drew prepared to close the book on his Atlanta years and start anew in Milwaukee, he received a telling correspondence.
"I really thought, during my years in Atlanta, that I had great relationships with the players," Drew said. "I was on a plane ride coming in here and I got a text from (Hawks swingman) Kyle Korver. It was a very moving text. It just tells me that you know what? I did my job, in establishing a relationship with him and his family. They recognized and appreciated that.
"I'm going do the exact same thing here in Milwaukee. I'm going to get to know my guys. We're going to become buddies. It's going to become more than just a player-and-coach relationship. We're going to become buddies, good friends. And we're going to make sure every time we step out on the floor we're on the same page."