Wildcats in the NBA

Relaxed Arizona Wildcats hoops legend Steve Kerr wins head coaching debut

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Steve Kerr instructs the Golden State Warriors' NBA Summer League team as Luke Walton (far right) watches (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Steve Kerr instructs the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Summer League team as Luke Walton (far right) watches (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

LAS VEGAS — Steve Kerr and his fellow Arizona Wildcats hoops alums Bruce Fraser and Luke Walton sat side-by-side on Golden State’s bench, mixing as much laughter as game management during the Warriors’ 70-58 win over Charlotte Friday night.

Kerr, coaching the first game of his career, did not appear to be overwhelmed by the experience at the NBA Summer League in the Thomas & Mack Center. The pressure-filled moments will come for sure from November to hopefully June for the Warriors. For now, Kerr is adapting to his new role. It helps that he is familiar with his staff, which includes Fraser (his former teammate at Arizona) and Walton.

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“I was having fun,” Kerr said. “We have a great staff. We laugh and joke around a little bit during games and enjoy ourselves while we’re also working and trying to get our guys better.”

The relaxed setting of the summer league in Las Vegas is beneficial for Kerr becoming acclimated to being a leader on the bench. He broke into coaching his roster of Warrior hopefuls (standouts such as Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala will not play here) in a scrimmage against an NBA Development League select team Wednesday.

He told reporters that he felt scared for that scrimmage but not so much for the game against Charlotte. His only coaching experience before this week was leading his son’s AAU team and serving as an assistant coach for the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge three years ago.


Former Arizona players (left to right) Bruce Fraser, Luke Walton and Steve Kerr watch the Warriors from bench during Friday night's NBA Summer League game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Former Arizona players (left to right) Bruce Fraser, Luke Walton and Steve Kerr watch the Warriors from bench during Friday night’s NBA Summer League game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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Kerr is leading the summer league team with lead assistants Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, two NBA coaching veterans, watching from the stands. It is a role reversal from what is commonly seen at the summer league. Patrick Ewing, a Hornets assistant, is Charlotte’s coach here, for example.

“It’s 100 percent necessary for me as a new coach,” Kerr said about leading the summer league team here instead of one of his assistants. “I have a ton of experience in this league but in different capacities as player, general manager and broadcaster.

“The game is a little different at each stop depending on what you’re looking at and what you’re trying to accomplish. For me, it’s been great to work with our staff and for everybody to bond and get to know each other and develop roles. Also, to see the game from the sideline, I’m really glad that I’m doing this.”

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Kerr rarely stood during the game Friday night except to occasionally bark out an assignment to a player or discuss a call with a referee. Much like his mentors Lute Olson and Phil Jackson, Kerr will mostly be close to the vest on the sideline.

Don’t be mistaken. Kerr is known to show emotion. Remember that pump fist in front of Iowa’s Jeff Moe (an antagonist) after he made a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer of Arizona’s 66-59 win in Olson’s return to Carver-Hawkeye in 1987?

“When the crowd saw that, they got all over Steve,” Olson writes in his book Lute! The Seasons of My Life. “Throughout the entire second half, every time he touched the ball, they would start booing.

“It didn’t seem to bother him at all; in fact, he was such a tough competitor it probably made him focus even more.”

Golden State’s players and fans will see that intensity from Kerr, who impressed former Bulls teammate Michael Jordan with that characteristic. Jordan punched Kerr in the face during one heated practice in 1995.

While Kerr is having fun coaching a team of young players here, the time will come when he will be downright serious. Balancing calmness with intensity is the mark of a good coach in front of players who are grown men. The season is too long to go to extremes. Basketball is practically a year-round operation now with training camp, preseason, regular season, playoffs, draft preparation, summer league, free agency season, etc.

“That’s the best way to go … you got to enjoy it,” Kerr said of the process Friday night. “We’ve got a good group of people and it’s always fun to win.”

NBA SUMMER LEAGUE NOTES: Kerr said after Friday’s game that Iguodala will not participate in the USA Basketball national team training camp for the FIBA World Cup later this month in Las Vegas because of tendinitis in his right knee. Iguodala, 30, will try to rest the knee before training camp starts in October. He will have light workouts leading up to that. … Former Arizona guard Nick Johnson tallied a triple-double in his last NBA Summer League game with Houston in Orlando. Johnson had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Houston’s 101-75 win over Brooklyn. His performance also included a 360-degree dunk off a pass from former ASU guard Jahii Carson. With guard Jeremy Lin’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, that opens more potential playing opportunities for Johnson with the Rockets. … Former Arizona center Jordan Hill reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $18 million with the Lakers. Channing Frye signed a free-agent deal with Orlando earlier in the week. That leaves Jerryd Bayless, Richard Jefferson and Grant Jerrett as the only former Arizona players who are free agents. Jerrett is a restricted free agent with Oklahoma City.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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