One of the keys to maintaining a strong, seamless bond between the Canton Charge and its parent club – the Cavaliers – is continuity. The two clubs must work hand-in-hand – sharing players, fans and philosophy.
So it just seemed like a natural fit when the Charge announced on Wednesday morning that Steve Hetzel – a man the organization is very familiar with (and vice versa) as their new head coach.
The 33-year-old Hetzel spent his last four seasons as the Player Development Coach of his hometown Pistons. Prior to his stint in Motown, Hetzel was the Cavaliers Video Coordinator under Mike Brown from 2006 to 2009.
But Hetzel’s resume doesn’t begin in Cleveland. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State, he served as the Spartans’ student manager under head coach Tom Izzo from 2003 through ’05. Upon leaving Lansing, Hetzel broke into the NBA with the Spurs, serving as Assistant Video Coordinator under head coach Gregg Popovich (2005-06).
“His resume speaks for itself,” said Cavaliers Director of Development League Operations, Mike Gansey. “Eight years in the NBA, (he) worked for a great college coach in Tom Izzo, and obviously his familiarity with Mike Brown – who Steve worked with for three years. And for the last four years, he’s really helped develop some young players in Detroit. The player development aspect and his knowledge of the game, plus his familiarity with Mike Brown all go hand-in-hand and it was just a no-brainer to hire Steve.”
Before Hetzel begins preparing to get the season underway in central Stark County, he sat down for a moment with Cavs.com to talk about his belief in Mike Brown’s philosophy, his expectations for his first season and even how his impressive resume is metaphorical to Voltron …
As Canton’s new coach, how important is it to maintain the overall philosophy of the Cavaliers and, specifically, Mike Brown?
Steve Hetzel: Well, I think it’s one of the most important things because I’m an extension of the team.
But if I was a head coach of a college team, I would be running my own defensive system, my own offensive system and I would still be doing things that are very similar to Mike Brown because of what I believe. Knowing what he does already just gives me a head start of teaching it.
One of the reasons why I chose to do this was because I know defensive schemes, I want to be able to teach defensive schemes. And Mike Brown – he’s the best that I’ve been around, and I want to be able to implement it myself.
Have you worked – or will you be working – closely with Brown and his coaching staff?
Hetzel: Right now, I’m in every coach’s meeting. I’m working on the floor with their coaches. They’ve accepted me with open arms.
The player development coaches have been giving me their drills they use and their philosophy so I can take it and emulate it in Canton. Coach Brown, any questions I have, he’s just been an open book. So, as of right now, and what I foresee through Training Camp, it’ll be a hand-in-hand process.
Will your offensive and defensive systems be similar?
Hetzel: The plays will stay the same. I might not be running all the same sets, but I will run the offense and the philosophy behind the offense. It’s very similar.
But you play it from staples, not plays. It’s ‘attack the clock,’ ‘make your teammates better,’ ‘ball reversal,’ ‘make the extra pass,’ ‘floor spacing.’ Those things are universal between (Cleveland) and (Canton).
This is your first big head coaching opportunity. Will you try to put your own stamp on the team?
Hetzel: For me, there’s no ego in this – only growth as a coach. And for me, I saw it as a great opportunity to be able to teach on the floor and implement a system that I know works. And try to make it work on a different level. I believe in Mike. And that’s the reason that I came here. And I want to see the things he does work on the next level.
What do you want your players to feel when they come to Canton?
Hetzel: I’d love for them to feel like they didn’t leave Cleveland, they’re just in the back yard. And that they’re still continuing to get better. When they walk into practice, the gym is hopping. The players are getting better. It’s not a case of: ‘Why am I here?’ It’s: ‘I can do this. And I’m going to take what’s here and use it to my advantage.’
: And that’s kind of the mantra here: You’re not assigned because you’re not good enough. You assigned to help make you better.
One difficulty coaching a D-League team has to be walking the fine line between winning and losing vs. player development. How do you reconcile that to yourself and your players?
Hetzel: You hit it on the head from Day One. From the first team meeting, you have to address the fact that there will be change and you have to embrace the change. Because that’s what the league is.
If you implement a system and a way in which you do it, players become interchangeable. And then you become successful regardless of who’s there. You have a sense of everybody’s getting better every day. And if you develop your players and put in a system, the wins will come. You might lose three of your best players on night and take a loss. Well, so be it. You have to move on, that’s the league. You have to just keep marching forward.
They say it’s about developing players, it’s not about winning. But I’ve said it before: if you develop them the right way, you’re going to have winning habits.
Why did you choose the Charge?
Hetzel: Familiarity, number one, with the organization. Knowing exactly what I was walking into. Seeing the success Canton’s already had. There’s a plan already to follow – we’re not building from scratch.
I’ve always liked the way this organization was run. They’re very thorough in everything they do; they leave no stone unturned. And so why wouldn’t I want to work in an environment like that? Knowing Coach Brown’s system is a huge positive for me – and the opportunity to grow as a coach.
You’ve studied under some of the best coaches in the business. Do you bring something from every coach you’ve studied under?
Hetzel: You take what you learn from each coach and you make it your own. You never try to be that coach because then you’ll never be yourself.
Gregg Popovich’s No. 1 asset is his management of people – beyond his outstanding mind for X’s and O’s. But above everything else is the way that he manages players’ egos and manages the team. From the superstar to the 15th guy on the roster – they’re all getting the same treatment.
So you look at that and you embrace it and you think, ‘I’m going to treat everyone the same.’ I’m not Gregg Popovich, and I’m not going to do that in his manner. I’m going to do it my own way. But I know that that works.
And I take from Mike Brown – defensive schemes, positive energy on the court. When he says it’s a no excuse team, it’s a no-excuse team. There’s no doubt about it, when Coach Brown says he’s going to do something, he makes it happen. So for me, I take whatever we’re going to put in place, and there will be no wishy-washy, change to our schemes. This is what we do, and we’re going to do it the right way.
John Kuester, a great offensive mind and offensive philosophy. You take little parts of what he does. I don’t have his offensive mind, but I definitely saw what worked.
Lawrence Frank’s organizational skills: from top to bottom, he knew exactly what he wanted out of each coach and each player. He gave specific roles to each guy and it made things easier when things were just run the right way. He’s similar to Mike Brown – top-notch organizational skills.
And here I am, trying to take to piece from everybody and build Voltron.
You’re just 33 years old. Does being so young help you relate to the players?
Hetzel: I don’t think anything helps you, specifically, when you walk in the door. Unless you have that NBA playing experience, and when you walk in they say, ‘He’s this guy and I know him.’
When you don’t know a player and they don’t know you, the best way to develop their skills is to stress to them what you can do for them and build trust. Once they trust that you’re going to make them the best player and you have their best interests at heart, then they’ll run through a brick wall for you.
For Charge fans, what will a Steve Hetzel-coached team look like this season?
Hetzel: Defense, defense, defense. Shrink the floor, contest, box out. Every 50-50 ball needs to be ours. We are the aggressor. We make teams feel us. Offensively, we share the basketball. Low turnovers and execute our offense.
I think the fad right not is everybody says they want to push the ball and be a fast-paced team. Yeah, we’re going to preach that. But we’re going to execute first. And we’re going to get stops, more than anything. Because if teams aren’t scoring, we have a better chance to win. I don’t want to get into a rat race to outscore teams. I want to be the dictator. And I want to say, in the last six minutes, we’re getting three stops in a row. And that’s how we’ll get wins.