Coach Gentry Chats With Suns Employees

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Oct. 24, 2011

Organized by the Suns basketball operations department, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry sat down with the employees of the Suns and Mercury on Wednesday. For many of the employees, it was their first opportunity to personally listen to and pose a question to the affable head coach.

Suns broadcaster Tom Leander interviewed Gentry about his life, which began in the sleepy town of Shelby, NC. Always popular and well-liked as a kid, Gentry was his high school’s vice president, a school marshal, as well as a member of the Monogram Club, Pep Club and Octagon Club.

Although he was a wide receiver for his high school’s football team, his first love was always basketball.

“You could get killed playing football,” Gentry joked.

Gentry became recognized as a basketball player when as a sophomore, he guarded his cousin, Hall of Famer David Thompson, then a senior for cross-town rival Crest High School.

“They were our big rival and we thought we had a secret weapon to try to stop him (because I knew him)," Gentry recalled. “We played a box-and-one on him and I think I held him to about 41 points.”

As a senior, Gentry’s team won 29 straight games before losing to their cross-town rivals, a team that they beat four times, in the state championship.

“That left a scar forever because the guys on that team were my buddies,” Gentry said.

After enjoying an excellent prep career, Gentry received a scholarship offer to play at Appalachian State for Press Maravich, father of the legendary “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

“Coach Maravich was so far ahead of his time,” Gentry said. “This was in 1973 and we were doing all of this type of stretching and things that we’re doing now in the NBA. But everybody was looking at us like we were crazy back then.”

Gentry remembered “Pistol” Pete coming to visit his father’s team when Gentry was a freshman.

“Pete came up and stayed with us for a few days and we got to play with him,” Gentry said. “That was the highlight of my career.

“Here was a guy that averaged 44 points a game for his career in college, and that was without the three-point line. He probably would’ve been a 50-point scorer a game with the three-point line.”

The current Suns Head Coach also played under renowned coach Bobby Cremins, who was Division I’s youngest head coach in the country when he took over at Appalachian St.

After completing college, Gentry contemplated getting into banking, but was able to secure a tryout for the ABA’s Denver Nuggets. His cousin, Thompson, arranged the tryout with Nuggets Head Coach Larry Brown.

“That’s the only way I would’ve gotten a tryout,” Gentry said.

It turned out to be the biggest break of his career. Brown warmed to Gentry, eventually becoming his mentor.

“He said somewhere along the line that we were going to work together,” Gentry said. “He’s a great basketball mind and I still talk to him all the time. I’d say that he’s had more influence on my career than any other person.”

After serving as an assistant at Baylor and Colorado, Gentry joined Brown’s staff at Kansas. In 1988, Kansas won the NCAA Championship, despite losing several important players to academic ineligibility.

Brown and his staff had to use three football players to fill out the roster.

“What happens with Larry’s teams is that he is such a teacher that every day he drills in the same thing so his teams get better as the season goes on,” Gentry said.

Gentry then followed Brown to San Antonio, serving as his assistant for the Spurs. While coaching there, Gentry met a woman in the team’s corporate sales office named Suzanne. She would later become his wife and the two have been together for 22 years.

Now in his fourth stint as a head coach in the NBA, Gentry has manned the helm of the Heat, Pistons and Clippers before becoming the head coach of the Suns. Leander, who travels with the team from city to city, tried to explain to the employees how Gentry is still so warmly welcomed by the cities in which he’s coached.

“When he goes to Detroit it’s like the mayor has arrived,” Leander said. “Ushers, security guards and people in media relations still go out of their way to see him and greet him. Clippers owner Donald Sterling still puts his arm around him when he sees him.”

But for Gentry, it’s just a part of his personality.

“First of all, I don’t think you can take anything personally because people have different philosophies and agendas,” Gentry said. “So I think you have to have enough confidence in yourself to believe that you’re a good coach and that you’re doing everything that you possibly can.”

Leander has been most impressed by Gentry’s ability to handle his promotion from assistant coach to head coach. And that's one of the reasons why he believes the Suns are so fortunate to have him.

“I’ve seen guys that become head coaches change when they get promoted from assistant,” Leander said. “Alvin’s personality hasn’t changed.”

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