A mission begins

Drew hits ground floor running

Larry Drew has laid out his plan.

The first-year Milwaukee Bucks head coach hasn’t publicized his blueprints, but he has begun revealing them to his players.

And he is excited about what lies ahead.

“It’s been a very active summer,” Drew aid. “Now this is the beginning. It really feels like things are about to start, to get revved-up. I’m looking forward to it.”

Drew, who was named the 13th head coach in Milwaukee franchise history on June 3, spent the past three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, guiding them to a 128-102 record and three National Basketball Association playoff appearances.

He begins his new job with a roster featuring only four returning players from last season, when the Bucks went 38-44 during the regular season and earned the 27th playoff berth in team history before being swept in their four-game series with the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat.

So Drew didn’t wait until the doors to training camp opened to familiarize himself with his players and let them know his expectations of them.

“Training camp is a time to develop your team and see what you have,” Drew said. “That time, for me, began over the summer, making contact with all of the players and letting these guys know what I expect.

“I know I have my work cut out putting everything together, particularly when I have a big group of new guys. But when we step out on that floor for our first two-a-days, we’ll be a team. We’ll be a team that’s committed and trying to achieve our goals. One guy won’t do it. Two guys won’t do it.

“We’re going to do it as a team. That will be our message throughout the year.”

Drew, drawing from his experience of 11 seasons as an NBA player, 10 as an assistant coach and three as a head coach, knows the challenge in front of him and his players will be challenging.“Will it be easy? No,” he said. “Will there be some bumps in the road? Absolutely. We won’t be tested by how well we’re doing; we’ll be tested by going through tough times and seeing what we’re made of.

Drew faced a similar situation last season in Atlanta, where he had to incorporate 10 new players. So he has a pretty good idea of what he and his staff are facing.

“It’s really tough when you bring in this amount of new players,” Drew said. “We had a similar situation last year in Atlanta. We’re going to force-feed them. We have no choice. We have no time to get everything in. It will be a gradual process. We’re not going to try to do it overnight. But we will be force-feeding.

“We are getting these guys on the court and seeing how well they mesh together, how well they play together. We’re looking at different combinations and throwing guys into different positions. I know what these guys are capable of from an individual standpoint, but we’re looking at fitting together as a team.”

The possibilities excite Drew.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing an O.J. Mayo playing with an Ersan Ilyasova,” he said. “We have a young kid in Giannis (Antetokounmpo). Zaza (Pachulia) has come through here before. It’s just trying to see what we have and getting everyone on the same page.

“The difference between Atlanta and here is I did have four guys who knew the system there. Here I’m starting completely over. We’re starting out teaching 19 guys a whole new system. But as I’ve said from Day One, I embrace that challenge. When you look at the makeup of our team, we have some guys who have high basketball IQs.  I think these guys will enjoy playing the kind of basketball I’m going to bestow in front of them.”
Drew was asked what identity he expects to Bucks to establish.

“I think it remains to be seen,” he said. “I know as we begin this quest, certainly I’ve always been a defensive-minded coach. And looking at this team in the past, defensively it’s been pretty good – in the middle of the bunch. Last year’s offensive numbers weren’t that good.

“We obviously have to do a lot of teaching, and more importantly we have to do a lot of evaluating. We’re putting guys in game situations during the exhibition season to allow guys to play and see what they can do – not just personnel, but looking at different combinations on the floor. I’ll have to see how we progress and how guys are as far as learning.

“We started training camp by trying to put in the meat and potatoes of what we’ll do. Hopefully they pick it up and we can go to the next thing. I have a goal of what I want to accomplish each week. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”

Those who have visited the Bucks’ practice facility have noticed the facelift it has undergone. There will be more changes, Drew promises.

“You guys (the media) may walk into this gym and see some numbers plastered on a wall or on a table,” Drew said. “Those numbers will have a major significance.

“Our guys will be reminded when they walk in the door up front and see those numbers, they’ll know what those numbers are. They may walk in the locker room and see a number plastered on the mirror. They’re going to know what that number is. We will have goals. From an expectation standpoint, I expect guys to do what they have to do to try and help this team reach those goals.”

Pachulia, who spent the 2004-05 season with the Bucks before signing on as a free agent with the Hawks in August of 2005, became well acquainted with Drew during his eight seasons with Atlanta – first as an assistant, then as his head coach.

The 29-year-old center looks forward to continuing that player/coach relationship in Milwaukee, and he can give his new teammates a good idea of what to expect from Drew.

“I always had fun playing for ‘L.D.,’” Pachulia said. “The first thing I want to mention is he always says to his teams, ‘We should average 25 assists if we want to win the game.’ Basketball is a team sport. It’s always fun for everyone to play with a team that averages 25 assists. It’s fun for the fans, too. We won a lot of games like that.

“He has the experience of coaching new guys, just last year. We had a lot of new guys. We have great guys here – great veterans and great, young rookies who are committed and willing to learn. They’re willing to learn the system right away.

“He loves this game. He’s really professional. He’s always prepared for the games. He’s fun to play for.”

The fun has begun.