Focus on Pistons’ stretch drive, but SVG intrigued by glimpses of NCAA creativity

Stan Van Gundy says Luke Kennard has shown him the ability to compete at the defensive end through his first four Summer League practices.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – It will come after the 2016-17 season is dissected and the draft is completed and the Pistons have waded through free agency and tied up loose ends with the roster for next season. But Stan Van Gundy has some travel plans for late summer.

They were dictated by the snippets of NCAA tournament games he watched over the past four days.

“I’ve identified about a half-dozen teams, just in the last few days, that I want to go back and watch more of and see what they do,” he said after Monday’s Pistons practice with his focus riveted on the season’s final 12 games amid a heated playoff race. “With some of them, I want to go meet with coaches in the off-season. You can like what teams do, but a lot of it is figuring out teaching points and timing and those guys have obviously been running the offense or teaching the defense, so you want to see what the teaching points are.”

Van Gundy mentioned Gonzaga specifically for the ways Mark Few puts his big men in position to score before catching himself.

“I don’t really want to give this list to everybody, so I’ll let that go. But I’ve got five or six teams that I’ve seen things – offensively and defensively – maybe for an eight-minute stretch, but saying, boy, I’d like to see more of that and go back and get the film. There’s just some great, great coaches.”

Two of his favorites just happen to be neighbors, Tom Izzo at Michigan State and John Beilein at Michigan. He goes back a long way with both, Izzo from their days in the ’90s as Big Ten assistant coaches – Izzo under Jud Heathcote and Van Gundy under Stu Jackson at Wisconsin – and Beilein from his first year in the profession as a Vermont assistant in 1981 when he was recruiting one of Beilein’s players at Erie Community College in western New York.

It’s probably fair to guess that Van Gundy has – and will continue to – poach ideas from Beilein’s offensive playbook. It didn’t surprise Van Gundy to hear Louisville’s Rick Pitino say over the weekend that Beilein presented more problems for a one-day tournament preparation than any coach he’d ever encountered.

“John’s always been one of the best,” Van Gundy said. “John understands everything – spacing, timing, cutting. And then he also understands matchups against what teams are doing. John is a really, really smart basketball coach and a great teacher. That’s why his guys have developed skills.”

Van Gundy felt for Izzo after losing to No. 1 seed Kansas in the second round, lauding the job he did to coach around injuries that decimated Michigan State’s frontcourt.

“Just another great coaching job,” he said. “Getting in the tournament, to me, with all he went through – he lost all of his big guys, so no front line – and he’s still in the tournament and then to win a first-round game by 20. He had an incredible year. I know he won’t feel that way because of all the success that he’s had, but this was a typical Tom Izzo great coaching job.”

Pistons Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly famously said in the ’80s that his trainer, Mike Abdenour – now Van Gundy’s director of team operations – was better qualified to coach an NBA team than the top college coaches. And Daly wasn’t being smug. He was a coaching lifer who spent 15 years on college campuses before jumping to the NBA under Billy Cunningham with the Philadelphia 76ers. That was just how different the pro and college games were then.

Van Gundy feels they’ve moved closer today, in part because college coaches have adapted to boost their recruiting.

“They’re really not the same game and at the same time, it’s still basketball. It requires a little bit of adjustment, but look what Billy (Donovan) has done in Oklahoma City. I think he’s been fantastic,” Van Gundy said. Donovan is in his first year in the NBA after a long run at Florida that featured back-to-back NCAA titles. “One of the things people have figured out is all these kids want to get to the NBA. So if you’re playing a style that isn’t going to help you get to the NBA, you’re not as attractive. People have adjusted to that.

“There’s a little more variety in style of play even than in our league. I like watching from a coaching standpoint. The coaches are fantastic. You see a lot of really good stuff.”

So good he’s planning a deeper dive after taking care of Pistons off-season business.