Coach Connection: Jack Sikma

Editor’s Note: This week, profiles each of the four Wolves assistant coaches. In Part 2, Jack Sikma looks back on his long career as a center in the NBA and talks about how it helped him become a coach.

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Charlotte Bobcats head coach Paul Silas spent 16 years in the NBA as a center/forward, and during his time in the league he compiled more than 12,000 rebounds for six different teams. The final stop of his career was in Seattle, where he served as a mentor for a young rookie in 1977 named Jack Sikma.

Silas said Sikma, the eighth overall pick in that year’s draft, brought a 6-foot-11 frame and an enthusiasm for the game to the SuperSonics—something the veteran Silas saw and appreciated. Playing the same position, Silas helped mentor Sikma on how to approach the game and maximize his potential.

“I made him tough—believe me—and he was unbelievable,” Silas said during the Bobcats’ visit to Target Center in February. “The first day of practice, we didn’t have a sub for him, and for two hours straight he just ran up and down the court. He didn’t complain. I just said, ‘This guy is going to be unbelievable; he’s going to be outstanding.’”

The two helped deliver the 1979 NBA championship to Seattle, and more than 30 years later Sikma is helping use the knowledge he learned as an up-and-coming player to help this year’s Timberwolves squad grow and improve. Sikma came to Minnesota this season after spending the past four years on coach Rick Adelman’s staff in Houston, and he said part of the draw for coming here was the amount of potential the coaches saw in this Wolves club.

It’s something Sikma learned early in his career.

Sikma spent 14 seasons in the NBA with Seattle and the Milwaukee Bucks, retiring after the 1991 season. He registered more rebounds (7,729), blocked shots (705) and free throws made (3,044) than any other player in Sonics history, and as a result Seattle retired his number in 1992. He finished with 10,816 boards, 1,048 blocks and 4,292 free throws made for his career.

Sikma understood the game and found ways to counter what opposing teams were scheming. That level of understanding helped him land a spot on Adleman’s staff when he took over as head coach in Houston in 2007. Sikma, who was a coach on the Seattle staff at the time, began talking with Adelman about how to maximize Yao Ming’s potential while keeping him healthy.

Quickly, Sikma developed an appreciation for how Adelman approaches the game.

“Coach Adelman is probably one of the best ever in the league in understanding personnel and how to get them into the right spots to where they can be effective,” Sikma said.

In Minnesota, Sikma has been pivotal in helping second-year center Nikola Pekovic develop into a force in the paint. Pekovic, who played in Europe prior to the NBA and had difficulty staying out of foul trouble in his rookie year, has shown the perfect blend of finesse and force this season. The result has been a breakout campaign—averaging 13.5 points and 7.9 boards this season while going through stretches of dominance.

He nearly averaged a double-double in February (16.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG) and has 12 of his 13 career double-doubles this season.

Sikma said he’s been able to help Pekovic understand how to handle what the other team is offering.

“The more successful you are, the more you become part of the other team’s game plan on how they are going to defend you,” Sikma said. “You’ve got to be able to recognize that and have some counters. I think I’ve been able to help there.”

That ability to adjust dates all the way back to Sikma’s time with Silas, who helped nurture him early in his career.

“He indoctrinated me physically on how the game was played—we were a young team but we practiced hard,” Sikma said. “We got better in practice and it showed up in the first couple years we were able to elevate our game and had a lot of success.”

That’s the mentality Sikma hopes to bring to this young roster, who like that Sonics team in three decades ago has a core of players ready to take the next step.

“It’s not all about stats—it’s about finding ways to get Ws,” Sikma said. “I think our priority was evident early in our camps, and it started paying dividends. Now we’re in position for it to pay dividends.”

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