Next move for `The Glide' could be to NBA coaching

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

March 31, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Look for Clyde Drexler's name on a team Web site, and you won't find it this year, but the former Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets guard is hoping that won't be the case next season.

Drexler, one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, isn't looking to add a chapter to his playing career, like Michael Jordan, but is taking the necessary steps to become an NBA coach, serving as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets.

"For me, it's more of what I would like to do," said Drexler while helping Nuggets players prepare for a game against the Washington Wizards. "Without the academics, without the compliance, without the recruiting, it's just pure men playing basketball. That's more in line with what I'd like to do at this time."

After a brilliant playing career that landed him in 19th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list and included a championship with the Houston Rockets, Drexler retired after the 1997-98 season and got into college coaching. He took over at his alma mater, the University of Houston, where "The Glide" had been a founder of Phi Slamma Jamma, as the 1983-84 Cougars team was known.

But the college game didn't suit Drexler, who parted ways with Houston after two seasons. After a year away from basketball, during which he was passed over for the Trail Blazers' coaching opening that went to Maurice Cheeks, who had no head coaching experience at any level, Drexler signed as a special assistant to Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, hoping to ready himself for NBA coaching.

Asked if coaching in the NBA is more difficult than college, Drexler said, "I don't think so, because in college, you've got to recruit them, you've got to get them, and then you've still got to do the same thing. Here, they're paid professionals. There should be a little professionalism among men. That being said, these guys are good listeners. They conform. They probably listen a lot more than we did when we were younger. It's been a pleasure to work with them."

When Denver coach Dan Issel left the club earlier this season after making racially insensitive remarks to a fan, Drexler left the front office and became an assistant to interim head coach Mike Evans.

Out of loyalty to Evans, Drexler won't say that he would like the Denver job, should the Nuggets elect to go in a different direction. But he should be a candidate for some of the possible off-season openings around the league with franchises such as Toronto, Golden State or Milwaukee, if the Bucks continue to slide.

"I think I'll be ready for it, definitely. I'm certainly looking forward to it," said Drexler.

Quiz

The Milwaukee Bucks last week became the 13th team - and fifth this season - to gain 1,500 wins as a franchise. Of the five teams that broke through this season, which took the longest to get there?

The road back

In part because the Atlanta Hawks are having yet another woeful season, the comeback story of Leon Smith probably has slid under the radar of most fans. It is, nonetheless, one of the year's more heartwarming tales.

In contrast to Kevin Garnett, the other Chicago native who made it big in the NBA straight out of high school, Smith, a 6-foot-10 forward, flamed out in less than a season in Dallas, where he couldn't mature fast enough for coach Don Nelson or his son, assistant coach Donn Nelson.

Smith, who spent much of his childhood in foster homes, clearly needed to do some growing up. But there wasn't time for that in the rough-and-tumble NBA, and he languished in the Nelsons' system. Smith refused to do certain drills in the Mavericks' first workout, and within two weeks of the beginning of the season, he was attempting suicide, swallowing 250 aspirins, then getting arrested twice in 24 hours on charges of threatening an ex-girlfriend with a gun and damaging her mother's car.

Smith then spent time in psychiatric care. A month after he was released from the facility, the Mavericks cut him. Smith caught on with the Gary (Ind.) Steelheads of the Continental Basketball Association this season, where he averaged 18 points and a league-leading 15.3 rebounds and got picked up by the Hawks.

Through 10 games, Smith's numbers are modest (2.1 points and two rebounds a game), but the important thing is that, at 21, he is getting another chance to turn things around.

"I want to be a useful person and not waste any days," Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times recently. "I just realized that if I was going to grow up and accomplish some things in the world, I needed to have a certain amount of discipline. Before, I wasn't listening to anybody. I did what I wanted to do. No one could get through. I had to settle this with myself that I had to stay focused all the time. I had to have talks with myself to get through to me."

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