Denton: First Practice Filled With Energy & Enthusiasm

By John Denton
October 2, 2012

ORLANDO – As he prepared for his first official practice as head coach of the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, Jacque Vaughn feverishly flipped through a dog-eared notebook that he had kept for years regarding his likes and dislikes from various training camps.

As Vaughn was looking over diagrammed plays and motivational speeches from the likes of Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Roy Williams, the rookie head coach stumbled across a quote from Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, his former teammate in Utah. Vaughn wasted little time drawing from his impressive encyclopedia of basketball knowledge and experience by applying a message to Tuesday’s training camp opener for the Magic.

``John Stockton used to tell me, `Work me hard, can’t work me long; work me long, can’t work me hard,’’’ Vaughn recalled with a laugh. Vaughn and his assistant coaches worked to keep a brisk pace to the Magic’s first team workout on Tuesday. The team was on the floor just 1 hour, 45 minutes – short by some NBA standards – but the drills were coming in rapid-fire order and there was very little standing around at all. In fact, the team had just one water break and ran sprints at the end of the session when free throws were missed.

Vaughn met with his new coaching staff after the first of Tuesday’s two practices and polled them on what they thought of the tempo of the session. Vaughn admitted that while some of the players might have been taken aback by the pace of the practice, the energy and enthusiasm were high and he was quite pleased.

``I went think it went faster than some of the players expected, but I was happy with the practice,’’ Vaughn said. ``I asked my coaches about it because they get a sense of whether it was too long or whether there was a good flow to practice. Overall, I think it was a good practice.’’

Vaughn, the 10th head coach in Magic history after taking over for Stan Van Gundy in July, said there were no nerves as he conducted his first practice with the franchise. Vaughn said he did turn off the Monday Night Football game between the Cowboys and Bears early and made sure to get a good night’s rest, ensuring that he would be fresh for his first practice as a head coach.

As a player in the NBA for 12 years and later an assistant coach in San Antonio, Vaughn had been through thousands of practices. But this one was all together different because he was the one calling the shots, directing the flow of practice and holding players accountable.

And Vaughn was, in a word, calm. That’s often his demeanor, whether he’s in games, practices or holding court with the media. It’s who he is, he said, and who he will remain as the Magic embark upon trying to build another winning team. ``I felt extremely composed today,’’ Vaughn said. ``My wife asked me (on Monday) if I felt nervous and I said, `No.’ I think she sensed that from me and then we went out and had a good first day.’’

Vaughn certainly has his work cut out for him as he tries to build some cohesion and chemistry on an Orlando team that has only seven returning players from last season. A blockbuster four-team, 12-player trade in August brought the Magic new pieces from several different teams and that group of players is having to pick up Vaughn’s system and terminology at warp speed.

Further complicating matters is the Magic have just three days of actual training camp before leaving for Mexico City on Friday. Orlando plays the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday in Mexico City, meaning Vaughn has had to try and teach his team many of the basics of his system in a short period of time. Hence the hectic pace of Tuesday’s first practice. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson said he like that there was more action and less talking in the first drill and it kept things interesting.

``It was very upbeat and up-tempo and there was a lot of energy in the gym,’’ said Nelson, the Magic’s longest tenured player. ``It was fun. It’s boom, boom, boom, boom. I thought it was going to be more talking, but it was them telling us to get to the stations and keep working. It was good.’’

Added J.J. Redick: ``I thought it was a well-run practice and definitely we moved from one thing to the next really quickly. I feel like we got a lot accomplished.’’ Vaughn said there were few nerves for him in his first practice because he had been so well prepared through the years to do this job. He might be a rookie head coach, but he has drawn knowledge from some of the best to ever prowl the sidelines.

He was an All-American point guard at Kansas University and said Williams taught him the importance of having detailed, efficient practices. He spent his first four seasons in the NBA in Utah playing for Sloan and with Stockton. Sloan’s fiery nature rubbed off on him, and he said there’s a temper buried somewhere beneath his measured and calm demeanor. While playing in Orlando, he learned several motivational tactics from Rivers. And Popovich, a four-time champion in San Antonio, always predicted that Vaughn would someday be a great head coach and taught him the value of preparation and organization.

``Those guys I owe a tremendous amount to them because they prepared me for this situation and I’ll never forget that,’’ Vaughn said of the coaches he worked and played for. ``I’ll lean upon those experiences as I go through some tough times. And during the good times I’ll appreciate it, too.’’ Vaughn’s measured and mild-mannered approach will be a 180-degree change from the emotional and fiery ways of Van Gundy, the Magic’s head coach the previous five years. Van Gundy led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, an Eastern Finals trip in 2010 and five straight playoff berths. But he had a white-hot style that tended to wear on players and he looked at coach-player relationships as business propositions.

Vaughn figures to be just as demanding, stressing that he will hold players accountable in everything that they do. But he will also do it in a more personal way, talking instead of screaming and often keeping his arms crossed instead of flailing about on the sidelines.

Already, some of his players have gotten a sense of Vaughn’s reserved personality and they like the change. They also like that Vaughn is a former player and just three years removed from begin a point guard. That experience should give him a sense of a player’s mentality through good times and bad.

``Jacque is very organized, even with our approach to the game. We’ll be well-prepared and we’ll understand the freedoms that we have,’’ said shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who like Vaughn was going through his first Magic practice on Tuesday. ``I think (Vaughn’s style) is great because players need freedom because basketball is a very creative game. And with defenses in this league scouting you, you don’t want to be predictable. I think it will work to our benefit to kind of be unpredictable, but still be able to get out there and execute at a high level.’’

If and when Vaughn encounters a rough patch in his first season as a head coach he can always go back to that dog-eared notebook kept from his time playing at Kansas, Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio. Inside, he’s scribbled everything from favorite poems to favorite pick-and-roll defenses. He might be a rookie coach, but there’s a wealth of knowledge there for him to pull from, and he’ll utilize it to get the most out of his players.

``(Looking through the notebook) was part of getting that first practice plan together,’’ Vaughn said. ``I was just looking back at the approaches of the different coaches who I had kept notes on and seeing what they stressed on that first day. So it was good to look back. I looked back five years ago, two years ago and a year ago and you take different pieces from those seasons and see what we can use to be successful for us.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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