Recently Lawrence Frank was asked how he felt about suddenly being in the NBA spotlight in New Jersey after years of toiling away in obscurity.
"It's like I went to some basketball fantasy camp, won the raffle and got to be an NBA head coach for a day," he quipped.
With Frank still undefeated after his first 12 games, it appears Rod Thorn may have been the man who won the raffle.
The New Jersey Nets GM who hired the 34-year-old – who had virtually no playing experience even at the high-school level – now is looking like a genius. Frank has the Nets playing at an extremely high level and making a bid for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Many people question whether a man who has never played the game can be a good coach, but Frank is making a pretty good argument that it's possible.
There are a couple of reasons why it is working so far in New Jersey. First, the Nets' players took some responsibility after Byron Scott was fired. When Scott was there, he took the heat for his team's poor play, and the players were able to hide behind him. The players lacked emotion, weren't playing hard and appeared to be feeling the effects of two straight fruitless trips to the NBA Finals.
Also, the Nets suffered some key injuries that changed the team's prospects significantly. Lucious Harris and Rodney Rogers weren't healthy early on, and Alonzo Mourning's kidney ailment forced his retirement.
Scott was in a difficult position and the ax fell on him. When that happened, the Nets woke up. They realized they could blame no one else, and it was as if a fuse lit underneath them. They began to play with fire, returning to form as one of the top defensive teams in the league and running like crazy with Jason Kidd at the helm.
The other reason for New Jersey's resurgence under Frank is that the players trusted the young coach and appreciated his work ethic and knowledge of the game. The players all were aware of Frank's penchant for spending long hours watching tape and working on strategy as an assistant. When he stepped in, he immediately had their respect. They believed in Frank and wanted to play hard for him.
While not an ex-player, Frank has a strong coaching background. He was mentored well by some great head coaches, including Bob Knight and Kevin O'Neill. In addition, he is a likable man and smart enough to deflect any credit that has been thrown his direction. There's no question he knows what he's doing and has a great feel for the flow of the NBA game.
But let's be honest. Basketball isn't brain surgery. Lots of people know the game. As an NBA coach, the key is to get your guys to play together, to share the ball and to compete every night. If you can do that and you have talent, you're in great shape.
The Nets are as talented as anybody in the East and now they are playing hard every night. And as long as they do that, Frank will be a great coach.