Denton: Vaughn Set to Face Off Against Mentor, Friend

By John Denton
October 20, 2012

ORLANDO – Just before tipoff Sunday night, when Orlando and San Antonio line up across the free throw lines on their respective ends, Jacque Vaughn will likely be directly in line with Gregg Popovich and he fully expects a flood of emotions to hit him.

After all, Vaughn’s proudest moment in sports came in 2007 when he was a reserve point guard for a Spurs’ team that won the NBA championship. Then, following retirement, he was brought back into the game by Popovich, who hired him as an assistant, taught him the ropes of coaching and put him in the position where he is today as the Magic’s rookie head coach.

So it’s understandable that Vaughn will be consumed by memories and emotions from his San Antonio days when he faces the Spurs for the first time Sunday night at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center.

``I really don’t know how to put it into words, but I know that when I look down there I will appreciate all of those memories that I had with Pop and those guys and everything that they did for me,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s a special bond that we had. I tell players all of the time that it’s more than basketball and it’s the relationships and the special bonds that basketball gives you. Those guys in San Antonio, I was in a lot of meetings with them and a lot of time on the sideline with them as a player and a coach. I’ll never forget those memories and they are special to me.’’

The Magic (1-4) got their first win Friday night with an impressive 112-96 thumping of Indiana. And on Sunday night Orlando could finally see the debut of shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who has missed the past two weeks because of a strained left hamstring. Afflalo has done full-court drills each of the past two days and hopes to play with his new team against the Spurs.

During the Magic’s massive makeover this past summer, they made no secret that they wanted to model the leadership structure after a championship franchise. And with the hiring of GM Rob Hennigan, Vaughn and several others in the front office, the model of choice to replicate is the Spurs.

Hennigan worked for the Spurs for four years from 2004-08, rising from intern to the Director of Basketball Operations. He was a part of San Antonio teams that won championships in 2005 and ’07.

His choice as head coach was Vaughn, whom he knew from their time together in San Antonio. Ultimately, many of the Magic staffers – assistant coach James Borrego, Basketball Operations Manager George Rodman and Manager of Advanced Scouting Zach Guthrie – had past ties to the Spurs as well. Hennigan, who also worked four seasons in Oklahoma City, said the Spurs model is one any franchise should try to emulate because of their successful ways and the professional manner in which they treat people.

``The time that we spent in San Antonio certainly gave us great exposure to a lot of people who were great at their job,’’ Hennigan said. ``That was really the breeding ground to a lot of the philosophies that we’re trying to utilize here and implement our own philosophies on top of those.

``One of the things that the Spurs do really well is build synergy within their basketball operations department, opening up steady and transparent communication lines,’’ Hennigan continued. ``They teach you to be humble and to not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. You could trust that everyone there was one the same page working toward a common goal.’’

That’s the kind of sustainable and successful system that Hennigan and Vaughn are trying to build in Orlando. Much of the work that Vaughn has done with the Magic players has been about trying to establish trust and relationships. His goal, he said, is inspire confidence in players while also holding them accountable for their actions. It’s one of the many lessons he learned from Popovich the past two seasons while serving as an assistant coach. Vaughn said that Popovich allowed him to shadow him, ask him questions and learn from him in every facet of coaching. Also, Popovich turned some of the scouting duties over to Vaughn early in his tenure as a coach and had high expectations for him.

``He gave me the opportunity to observe and I took advantage of it. He threw me into the fire early when I got there – he let me scout teams – and he really gave me a chance to grow as a coach. I owe him a lot,’’ Vaughn said. ``They taught you to not take yourself too seriously. Basketball is part of your life, but there are other facets too and don’t forget those other facets. Pop was able to keep you centered, but driven and that’s a tough combination. A lot of people get skewed one way or the other and don’t appreciate that balance. He’s one of the best at dealing with people.’’

That’s why Vaughn so fondly remembers his time with the Spurs. He talked to Popovich after landing the Magic head coaching job, bouncing basketball ideas and some personnel decisions off of him. Vaughn said he’ll never be shy about telling people about the help he got from working in the Spurs organization.

``For me, I’m proud to say that I’m a part of that (Spurs) tree,’’ Vaughn said. ``I won’t stray away from that. The consistency that they’ve had and the people that they’ve had as part of that organization are special. With their success, it’s direct correlation to (GM) R.C. Buford and (owner) Peter Holt in management and Coach Pop.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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