Vogel, staff learned from college road trip

Jan. 4, 2012


Frank Vogel talks to his team during a timeout. (NBAE/Getty Images)
Frank Vogel is a guy that knows how to make chicken salad and wash it down with lemonade, if you know what I mean.

If you don't, well, try this: Give him a set of daunting circumstances and he'll find a way to turn them to his advantage.

Consider: his first offseason as a head coach basically didn't exist. Couldn't work with, talk to or even acknowledge the players. When Vogel walked into the court for the first practice in early December, it was his first contact with his team in more than five months.

In fact, he wouldn't even know who was on his team until well after training camp began. And that camp, that vital first preparation period when schemes are installed and fine-tuned, personnel is evaluated and rotations are tweaked, was cut in half. Instead of seven or eight preseason games to work with his team, he had two. Against the Bulls.

Mix into the recipe a comprehensive turnover on his staff. Bringing in Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen to join Dan Burke represented an upgrade, to be sure, but it also put Vogel in the position of having to get to know his assistants before he could begin to determine how best to exploit their abilities.

So how did Vogel prepare himself for this onslaught of challenges?

Road trip.

The unprecedented downtime did not keep Vogel down. Instead, he saw an opportunity not only for staff bonding but continuing education. There is no shortage of brilliant basketball minds within driving distance: Brad Stevens at Butler, Matt Painter at Purdue, Tom Crean at Indiana, Rick Pitino at Louisville, John Calipari at Kentucky.

Vogel, Shaw, Boylen and Burke visited them all.

"We just took the major college programs that are close," Vogel said. "We stretched out to Lexington because I went to school there so I wanted to get back and obviously they were the No. 1 team in the country. We saw Kentucky, Louisville, I.U., Butler and Purdue.

"I enjoy watching coaches coach, just their style of how they manage their team, how they run a practice. Yes, we're looking for drills. Maybe a guy runs a certain drill you like and you might steal that. But I really just enjoy learning the coaching styles."

This was a bit of a reversal of the norm. It is commonplace to see college coaches in the stands during NBA training camps, sometimes taking notes, sometimes just networking. It is not nearly as common for NBA coaches to seek the counsel of their collegiate counterparts.

That's the thing about Vogel: he's confident in his ability without being egocentric. He knows what he doesn't know and is fully invested in continuing to learn.

"Here's the thing: the difference in levels has to do with player talent, not so much the coaching levels," he said. "There are great basketball coaches at the collegiate level. John Wooden said it best: 'If you're through learning you're through.' "

Clearly, Vogel is just getting started.

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