By Mike Slane, NBADLeague.com
Already having coached at the high school, NCAA Division One, NBA, CBA, and international levels, coach Morris "Mo" McHone is bringing his knowledge of the game to the NBA D-League.
Fresh off a Korean Basketball League (KBL) championship, McHone is back in the U.S. and preparing for his second stint with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, previously of the CBA. During his three seasons in Sioux Falls from 1995-96 to the 1998-99 season, the two-time CBA Coach of the Year guided the Skyforce to three CBA Finals, including a championship in his first season as head coach in 1996.
"I had always said I would not return to Sioux Falls or the CBA," McHone said during a phone interview from snowy South Dakota. "But when Sioux Falls changed over to the D-League, it really kind of changed the landscape because I had always wanted to coach in the D-League. To be able to coach in the D-League and be in a city that's been as good to me as Sioux Falls has it was really a pretty easy decision.
"The owners, Mike (Heineman) and Greg (Heineman), and I are friends and we have remained friends throughout. They just kind of stayed after me, so I thought that if I was going to do it, this would be the place to do it."
The franchise name and location might be the same from his last stay with the team, but the D-League is different from the CBA and could take some time to get used to. Unlike the NBA and CBA, D-League players are signed by the league, not by the individual franchise.
"I have to admit that I'm kind of lost in this D-League format because the people in the league office are the ones who are signing the players, which in the CBA was your number one duty. To put together a team in the CBA was a year round job."
Currently coach McHone and the Skyforce are waiting out NBA training camps to see which released players want to play in the D-League during the upcoming season. Each team will select from a pool of players in the D-League Draft on November 2.
"The first thing we're trying to do is recognize the names," the former San Antonio Spurs head coach said when asked how the Skyforce are preparing for the Draft. "The names right now aren't real familiar names, so we're going to have to wait until the NBA makes their cuts and see which guys are going to be willing to stick around and play in the D-League."
A majority of each teams roster will be shaped from drafted players, but teams are also holding open tryouts and expect several NBA players from affiliate franchises to be sent down at some point during the season. The Skyforce are affiliated by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, and McHone couldn't be happier. "Both teams have a very positive feeling about sending guys to the D-League for development," the 11-year veteran NBA coach said.
Finding an impact player during the open tryout could be a longshot, especially with it being held in one of the nations least populated states. "The local player tryouts in Sioux Falls, South Dakota or Bismark, North Dakota are not going to be nearly as attended as the Los Angeles D-Fenders'," McHone believes. He would consider it an "absolute steal" if the Skyforce find a player during the October 21-22 tryout who can come in and really help the team.
"If a player shows up that's really good enough to help you, I feel confident that Chris Alpert and those guys already know of him, and he would go into the drafting pool."
Along with player acquisition and the format of the league, D-League coaches must find an "ideal situation" where they can balance player development and winning games.
"Talking with the coaches that were in the D-League last year, it is very hard to balance both. I would think of what they were doing is really focusing on winning, but as players came down they really did try to fit them in. It's going to be hard."
As players make their way down from NBA affiliate rosters, the coaches understand that NBA players will get the most minutes and the "kid in front of him is going to be upset." But that's just another part of the D-League that coach McHone is going to have to get used to.
"I enjoy the minor leagues. I dread the bus rides, but other than that I don't dread any of it."