Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Tue Apr 06 03:20pm EDT

The BDL Interview: Sam Cassell



Gatorade is traveling the country, offering high school basketball teams a chance to visit this ridiculous space-age locker room they have built inside of a tractor trailer. The room comes complete with a giant computerized Xs and Os board and, you guessed (or, you probably didn't, because you're not from the future), a "testing station to gauge sweat losses."

The best sage to talk to these kids inside this mobile locker room? Well, you definitely guessed this. Sam Cassell(notes), the three-time NBA champion and current Washington Wizards assistant coach, who was kind enough to chat with BDL for a bit over the weekend.

Sam Cassell: Kelly?

KD: Hey, Sam, how ya doin'?

Sam: Pretty good, buddy.

KD: Um, tough year for the Wizards. You guys are having Saturday morning practices in April.

Sam: (Laughs.)

KD: This can't be what you imagined heading into this year, with the big stars in the lineup and the respected coaching staff, and a team with a pretty good recent history. What have you gotten out of your first year as an assistant coach?

Sam: It's been a learning experience. Just trying to learn as much as I can, and move forward. I've got great teachers, Flip Saunders is a great coach. Learning a lot from him. Just trying to learn as much as I can, as someone who's recently retired, and not put too much stress on myself, and just learn from this great coaching staff.

I've got Flip, Randy Wittman, Don Zierden, Wes Unseld Jr. Learning from Ernie Grunfeld, Tom Sheppard; just learning the game from the other side.

KD: I think we're at ... 10 coaches that you played for in the NBA? You speak highly of Flip, you played for him for a couple of years in Minnesota. Is there anything in his offense, or the way he sometimes tosses out a zone defensively, is there anything sets him apart from the other coaches you played for, or the other coaches in the league that you've observed?

Sam: Well, he's the best, buddy. He's a guy that understands the ins and outs of making a team better. He's an offensive dynamo, his offensive plays and schemes are unbelieveable.

He made me an All-Star. The only time I went to the All-Star Game. You gotta respect his offense, the work he puts into his offense, because he's a guy that has won 50 games numerous times. He's one of the top five coaches in the NBA, in my opinion.

KD: A couple of years ago, you were a player, you could say and do what you wanted bench, that's not the case in your current role. Any surprises, being on the bench? Any protocol things you have to follow that you weren't aware about?

Sam: No, the coaches let me be myself. [Saunders] is the boss, but he allows me to be me. He allows his assistant coaches to coach. That's one of the great things about working under Flip.

KD: I'm not trying to make excuses for what he did, but I had to look this up and double-check this, because it still blows me away. Andray Blatche(notes) is 23, and is in his fifth season in the NBA. You were older than him in your rookie year, by a full year. Is that something you have to keep in mind when you're dealing with these kids?

Sam: Well, it's a different generation. That's all I can say about that (laughs).

KD: Nothing else? You don't want to talk about the Blatche affair again?

Sam: It's a different generation. That's all I can say. (NOTE: And, as an assistant coach, that is literally all he can say on record.)

KD: Gatorade is asking high school teams to send in stories about their locker room rituals, with the winner getting to visit this traveling high-end locker room. Any pregame behind-the-scenes rituals that stick out from your time in the NBA? I don't imagine Hakeem Olajuwon starting a mosh pit in the bowels of The Summit.

Sam: I didn't have a ritual. Just undressed, dressed in my uniform, got ready to play the game. It's an honor to put that jersey on, millions of people want that honor, and I took it seriously.

KD: So Hakeem wasn't starting up a mosh pit in the hallway before warmups?

Sam: Oh, he got in the middle of the huddle. But as far as me, I didn't really have any rituals.

KD:Anything from high school that carried over into the pros? Ways to focus before a game?

Sam: No, I didn't really have any of that. I wasn't one of those guys that had to tie his shoes three or four times. I just went out and played.

KD: You started out 1996-97 with the Phoenix Suns, going through a real tough start, but it was one that also featured Steve Nash(notes) as a rookie. And I remember the first game I saw him play that year, a TNT game against the Bulls, and how complete he looked as a rookie. The way he squared himself and worked around defenders. Could you tell right away with Nash?

Sam: Oh, yeah. It took a while, though. You have to give Mike D'Antoni a lot of credit, too, because he had the perfect system for Steve Nash. It allowed Steve to do what he could do on a basketball court.

Steve's made tremendous strides. I'm very close to him to this day because, you know, Steve was my rookie. I spent a lot of time with Steve, I talked to Steve on the buses, in the hotels, on the way to games because, you know, I won two championships before I got to Phoenix.

KD: There still has to be back and forth between you and the players that are on the court, because you played with and against a ton of these guys. You're not that far removed from your time as a player.

Sam: Yeah, well, I could still play.

KD: Really?

Sam: My body won't let me.

KD: Ah. Well, I was wondering if there was something you could get into. When I mentioned to a couple of people that I was interviewing Sam Cassell, the first thing they brought up was the, how can I put this delicately ...

Sam: The Big Balls Dance!

KD: Yeah, let's just go ahead and call it that.

(Followed by a good 30 seconds of nervous laughter as I try to remember the Yahoo! Style Book guidelines on, um, this particular dance.)

KD: Anyone trying to pull that off these days? Anyone trying it in practice?

Sam: I saw Kobe Bryant(notes) try to do it last year in the playoffs, but he has to want it more than that. He's got to work on that dance.

KD: What's he doing wrong?

Sam: It's all about demeanor.

KD: The season's almost over, what does the coaching staff on a team like the Wizards try to do, try to install, in the limited time it has left with a group that obviously isn't going to the playoffs? You didn't miss the playoffs much in your career, but is there anything you try to tell these guys even though they won't play into May.

Sam: Well, they're professionals. Just go out and try to win.

KD: I appreciate your time, Sam. I'm one of the guys that still tries to get the word out on 2003-04, that's one of the best seasons I've seen a guard have in a long time.

Sam: Best guard in the NBA that year, and they still put me on the second team (laughs).

KD: That's messed up. Alright man, take care.

Sam: Thanks buddy.

Now through Sunday, April 11, Gatorade is holding a photo contest to find the FINAL high school to receive a visit from the G Series Mobile Locker Room - and all you need to enter is a story and a photo. High school athletes, coaches, administrators or parents may submit a brief story about their own locker room rituals, along with a photo, to the Gatorade Facebook fan page before Sunday, April 11. The winner will receive a visit from the G Series Mobile Locker Room for his or her school, and a $500 gift card for themselves.

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