5 Q’s With Greg Ballard

The fourth overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft by the then-Washington Bullets out of the University of Oregon, Ballard was a sharp-shooting forward who had a 10-year NBA playing career highlighted by helping lead the Bullets to the 1978 NBA Championship. After his playing career ended, Ballard got into coaching, starting out as an assistant in Italy with Il Messagero Roma. After that he came back to the NBA, working for the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves (who he has been with the last nine seasons). This summer, Hawks head coach Mike Woodson brought him to the Peach City as part of his first coaching staff.

Woodson believes Ballard's old-school values will go a long way in helping Atlanta's core of big men. Anyone seeking proof of Ballard's ability to teach need look no further than the NBA's reigning MVP, Kevin Gartnett, who developed under the tutelage of Ballard.

Ballard recently took timeout to talk about his goals for this year's Hawks, how teaching K.G. can serve as a motivational tool in Atlanta and his thoughts on the Montreal Expos, who drafted him as a pitcher in the 15th round of the 1973 free-agent draft, leaving town.

Hawks.com: This is your first year as a coach in Atlanta. What do you hope to accomplish?

Greg Ballard: Mike Woodson wanted me to come here and join his coaching staff and to give these young kids some input. I have a lot of experience and knowledge from over the last 10 years with Minnesota and 11 years playing in the NBA. So I've got like 20 years of experience in the NBA that I can show these guys and teach these guys the philosophy that Mike Woodson's bringing here that he wants to incorporate into the Atlanta Hawks to try and turn this team around and make it successful.

Hawks.com: Who on this team can you relate to from your career as a good outside-shooting big man?

GB: I'm going to be working closer with the big guys, more the centers. Right now, Jason Collier is a guy who can shoot from the outside I can relate to. The other guys like Josh Smith, Antoine Walker, Al Harrington, they're guys that can handle the ball. They're more athletic. They've got various ways that they can score. But as far as pure jump shooters, I think our big men are going to play that role, and also Peja Drobnjak. My game was more tailored after them because I was an outside jump shooter. But I could come off screens and knock down shots and I could post up if that was required. But with Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Mitch Kupchak down there in the low post, that didn't leave a lot of room for me, when I played.

Hawks.com: What was it like working with K.G.?

GB: More so starting this year I'm going to realize and understand how it was having a Kevin Garnett because Kevin Garnett was something special. I was part of developing him and working with him. When he came in he was "The Kid," then he became "The Man" and now he's "The MVP." I saw his maturity level develop over all those years. He's turned into a super, super athlete. He always had the athletic ability, but the one thing Kevin would do is work hard. He would work hard during the season, he would work hard during the off-season, he wouldn't take practices off, he wouldn't take a game off. He was always striving to get better. The things that we would teach him on the floor he put into play. He put it into effect in practices then he'd put it into effect in games. He's turned out to be some talent in this league.

Hawks.com: How can you use working with K.G. to inspire the guys here?

GB: If I need to bring it out I will bring it out on them to inspire them. Just tell them the way it was with a superstar who's an MVP now. The hard work and effort that he brought to the floor you have to bring now. If you're going to work hard usually something good is going to happen to you.

Hawks.com: You were a pitching prospect for the Montreal Expos. Does it sadden you that they're moving?

GB: In a way it does kind of sadden me, because baseball was foreign to them when they brought it up there. Just to see every day that they could see those superstars of baseball play up there and continue to get the Canadian people involved in watching the American sport. I think it's disheartening to see baseball leave because I think it meant a lot to those people up there.

Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta