New aides bring NBA vibe to ASU basketball
Nov 2, 2012 at 3:42p ET
TEMPE, Ariz. – The changes in the Arizona State basketball program do not stop with a new offense, a new defense and a new cover guy in freshman point guard Jahii Carson. If ASU basketball has a more of a professional feel this season, look to the addition of assistant coaches Eric Musselman and Larry Greer.
NBA veterans Musselman and Greer joined coach Herb Sendek’s staff during an offseason of change, and while all college assistants do all things, it appears that Musselman will work closely with the point guards (read NBA prospect Carson) and Greer will add his experience to the defensive side.
The fit seems natural. An NBA coach for three seasons with Golden State and Sacramento, Musselman has a lot of experience working with elite guards, including former Arizona players Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Gilbert Arenas.
Greer got his start in college but spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach and advance scout for Nate McMillan’s Portland Trail Blazers. Greer’s wife Emily told The (Portland) Oregonian she calls him the “spy who everyone knows” for his detailed analysis of opponents’ plays and schemes. Greer gets a kick out of that.
“I do favor the defensive side a little bit here,” Greer said.
The decision to look to the NBA grew out of talks with new ASU athletic director Steve Patterson last summer, Sendek said, as the two decided to “think out of the box and swing for the fences” in adding assistants to replace Scott Pera and Lamont Smith. Patterson’s familiarity with the league as a former front-office executive helped narrow the field. In the grand scheme, it probably will not hurt recruiting to have two former NBA coaches working the floor.
“They have been where a lot of our guys ultimately want to go,” Sendek said of his new aides.
“They bring in a new flavor and a new vibe. And you can definitely tell they know their X's and O's ... everything's just flowing together, I guess you can say. These coaches are really putting in a lot of time and hard work into getting everything set up for the season, so it's definitely good right now.”
Musselman, the son of former college and NBA coach Bill Musselman, was a point guard at the University of San Diego — his last contact with college ball except for some work as a TV analyst. He spent the previous two years in the NBA developmental league, where he was the coach of the year with the Los Angeles D-Fenders in 2012. He was the youngest coach in Continental Basketball Association history when he was hired in 1998 at age 23.
His work experience includes time in the USBL and with foreign teams from China, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. He coached Venezuela’s national team last year, helping develop point guards Greivis Vazquez and David Cubillan. Vazquez plays with the New Orleans Hornets, and Cubillan is Lockett’s teammate Marquette. Jamaal Tinsley was his point guard with the D-Fenders last season. Jeremy Lin ran the point when Musselman coached NBA D-League team Reno in 2010-11.
“To me it is a matter trying to add one little piece to their game,” Musselman said.
Carson, in his first season of eligibility, has been a willing pupil, learning which gaps to attack off the dribble and how to better use his speed and quickness on the defensive end. There are little nuances, too, such as taking an extra dribble off a pick-and-roll play to create an easier shot. Musselman has advised Carson, 5-foot-10, to add a 10-foot floater to his game.
“The higher the level that you play at, you have to understand that you are going to run into some teams that have some great shot blockers. It is important to get his shot off before the last line of defense,” Musselman said.
Carson likes the input from both new additions.
"They bring high intensity, high basketball IQ and high volume to the gym," Carson said. “Being at the NBA level and coming down to college, I think they have higher expectations of us because they see so much potential in us. They're picky about things that they know we should be doing. They know if we're slacking. They know if we're trying to fool them with voices or sounds to try to get out of things. They know every trick in the book.”
Greer coached at Wright State and Boston University before joining Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy’s staff as an advance scout in 2005. Van Gundy, a TNT TV analyst, was a stickler for defense with the Rockets. Portland's McMillan was the same way.
“Being around a college atmosphere is fun, realizing how the young guys are learning the game,” said Greer, whose instruction will be felt on the defensive side.
The Sun Devils predominately have played a 1-3-1 matchup zone defense in Sendek’s six seasons, but they did not play a possession of zone in their open scrimmage Oct. 20. They likely will keep in zone in their repertoire, but it appears man-to-man will be a primary focus this season. In some ways, it is easier to play because responsibilities are more defined.
“There is not a gray an area when you have a guy (in man defense), versus a zone where there are guys moving around and you are passing along people to each other. You have a little more accountability with man-to-man,” Greer said.
“I think we’ll play both. I think we’ll be more of a man-to-man team than they have been in the past, obviously. I think it is something that as we get better at, you will see better results. Man-to-man defense is about helping each other. If we can get to the point where we are helping each other ... making teams take contested twos, that’s the key. I think they like it a lot. I think they are getting better each day.”