Van Gundy Showing No Signs Of Coaching Rust At USA Men’s AmeriCup Team Training Camp
After Jeff Van Gundy finishing coaching his first practice in more than a decade, one of the first things he did was unwrap a cherry-flavored cough drop.
“The throat gets out of shape, too,” Van Gundy said. “You don’t get better at something you don’t do for a while.”
More than 10 years removed from his last coaching job, Van Gundy is shaking off the rust to serve as head coach of the USA Basketball men’s national teams that will compete in the FIBA AmeriCup 2017 and the FIBA World Cup Qualifying games.
Ahead of FIBA AmeriCup 2017 -- which runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 3 in South America -- Van Gundy has been tasked with preparing a group of players primarily from the NBA G League. The group is training at the University of Houston’s Guy V. Lewis Development Facility.
At the start of the USA’s first practice on Thursday night, Van Gundy gave a presentation of research on what he expects from the team and what the team can expect from the competition. While he spent weeks immersed in research, Van Gundy said he still feels like he has plenty of homework to do.
“I’ve got a lot to learn about FIBA, these guys and the teams we’re going to play,” Van Gundy said. “I spent a lot of time worrying about Panama, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic because they’re good teams with excellent coaching.”
Wearing a gray USA Basketball T-shirt with khaki cargo shorts and navy blue Nikes, Van Gundy was dressed much more casually than his usual suit-and-tie look as an NBA television commentator. But that doesn’t mean he’s lacking intensity in his approach.
Van Gundy is a constant teacher, frequently surprising his players with random pop quiz questions and calling them by name.
“That’s an old trick where you just repeat the question to buy yourself some time to think of the answer,” Van Gundy teased one player caught off-guard by a question.
His instructions are specific, thoroughly explained but concise.
Guard Kendall Marshall said he did research on Van Gundy and asked a few players what he might expect from his coaching style.
“The first thing you get from him is his enthusiasm for the game of basketball,” Marshall said. “He’s excited to be here and it rubs off on you. It’s very contagious and makes you want to compete. He’s done his research so it’s a matter of us needing to match what he’s prepared for.”
Despite the decade-long absence from coaching, Van Gundy shows no outward signs of rust. He showed off his razor-sharp memory on one drill where he quizzed small forward Will Davis II, who played for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA G League in the 2016-17 season. During a team drill to rehearse different offensive sets, Davis was lurking around the 3-point line.
“Will, is your strength on the 3-point line?” Van Gundy asked to a Davis head shake. “You shot 61.2 percent last year, right? 18.2 minutes per game? You can score in here all day.”
Van Gundy’s return to coaching ironically begins in the same place where he last left it. The practices on the University of Houston campus are held just a few miles from downtown Houston where Van Gundy last coached for the Rockets in the 2006-07 season. After going 52-30 in the regular season, the Rockets were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz, losing Game 7 at home in the nearby Toyota Center. Van Gundy was fired a few days later.
“103-99, May 5th,” Van Gundy said with a smile. “Not that I’m holding onto it or anything.”
For his return to coaching, guiding USA Basketball into unfamiliar territory of being underdogs was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“To be asked to coach for USA Basketball, there’s no higher honor than that,” Van Gundy said. “And you’ll also never feel a greater burden either to try to do right by the players and USA Basketball.”