Denton's Notebook: Wednesday, April 3

By John Denton
April 3, 2013

SAN ANTONIO – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn played for some of the best coaches in the game – and kept notes on all of them along the way – but the one he proclaims to have had the biggest influence on his coaching style is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

It was in San Antonio with Popovich where Vaughn were his only championship ring in 2007. In was in San Antonio where Vaughn got his start in coaching when Popovich offered his a job on his staff. And it was Popovich who not only welcomed Vaughn in, but taught him several tricks of the trade and groomed him to ultimately become the Magic’s head coach.

``I think the biggest thing (he got from Popovich), if I can pick just one thing, it’s that you always worry about your team and you do what’s best for your team throughout the course of the year,’’ Vaughn said of what he had learned. ``You manage your team and your players and that’s always what’s most important. If you keep that mindset then a lot of the decisions that you make throughout the course of the year will be in your favor.’’

Under Popovich, the Spurs have won four titles and amazingly have won at least 50 games 14 consecutive seasons. They came into Wednesday’s game as the top seed in the Western Conference and just 2 ½ games back of the top overall seed in the upcoming playoffs. Vaughn played for the Spurs from 2006 through 2009, winning 63, 58 and 56 games.

``I’m just glad I was a small piece of the success that remains,’’ Vaughn said. ``But it all starts with the guys who are leading this organization. They’ve done it the right way for a long time and continue to do that.’’

ICEMAN COMETH: NBA legend George Gervin is a legend around San Antonio for his years of prolific scoring during his Hall of Famer career, but he rarely attends Spurs games any longer. But he made an exception on Wednesday night to see one of his star pupils.

Gervin’s long-time agent was Torrel Harris, father of Magic forward Tobias Harris. Through the years, Gervin worked with the Harris to help him become a high school All-American, a first-round NBA pick and a budding star with the Magic. Harris said that Gervin watches many of the Magic’s games and often calls with advice throughout the season.

``It means a lot for him to be here. He’s someone who has always been around during my life. He helped me to be in this position that I’m in now and he’s helped me a tremendous amount. He’s watched a lot of our games and he likes our team,’’ Harris said. ``It was a humbling experience working with him. He’s one of the best scorers in the NBA ever and to have him critiquing me is the dream of a lifetime. So I really appreciate him a lot. He’s told me to always go have fun and play my game. He always tells me that if I miss eight shots in a row believe that the ninth shot is going in. So I keep that mindset.’’

SMALL FORWARD OR POWER FORWARD: In an attempt to combat the size and toughness of the Spurs, Vaughn opted for a much bigger starting lineup on Wednesday night that featured Andrew Nicholson at power forward. That meant moving Harris, who had played power forward in much of his 20 games with the Magic, back to his natural position of small forward.

Harris, a 6-foot-8, 226-pound athlete, is often outmatched in size when playing power forward, but he tries to use his athleticism and basketball smarts to beat foes to the punch in the post.

``You’ve got to use your quickness and find ways to push them out of their position. Offensively, (small forward) and (power forward) are kind of the same. Defensively, (small forwards) are typically the same, but (power forwards) are different types of players, so it depends on the matchup from night to night. But it’s always good to be able to play both positions and be able to play both.’’

ETC: Magic first-year GM Rob Hennigan, who has already made quite an impression around the league by acquiring second-year center Nikola Vucevic and Harris, got his start in pro basketball in San Antonio. Popovich said on Wednesday that he could tell early on as Hennigan was working his way up from intern to scouting director that he had all of the tools to someday be successful running his own team. Said Popovich: ``People develop, but he was somebody who showed an intelligence, a brightness and a feel for the management side just like a Larry Bird shows he understands the game of basketball or Tim Duncan is really fundamentally sound. He was bright and he had ideas that were out of the box. And after that he has a work ethic and knows how to handle people. He has all of the tools that you look for in people to move on in whatever field it might be. He’s done a fine job and he and Jacque make a fine partnership.’’ … Popovich was asked if the scandal at Rutgers University with Mike Rice, who was fired on Wednesday after a video surfaced of him pushing, kicking and throwing balls at players surfaced, would put a stain on basketball coaches and he said he hoped it was an isolated incident. He was then asked if he ever wanted to throw a basketball at superstar point guard Tony Parker, and Popovich replied: ``Oh sure, are you kidding me? But you can’t be convicted of murder until you murder somebody. We all have thoughts. But you don’t think he’s also wanted to change the direction of my nose once in a while?’’ … The Magic’s five-game, 10-day road trip continues Friday night in Chicago against the Bulls. Orlando closes the trip Sunday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.

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