Coach Hornacek impresses players at Suns camp
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP)
Jeff Hornacek's first training camp as head coach is over, and he has already impressed some of his best players with how he does his job.
Five days of training at 7,000 feet in the pines of Arizona ended with a scrimmage in front of several thousand people Saturday, the first baby steps in the rebuilding of a franchise coming off the second-worst season in franchise history.
Hornacek, the former All-Star and once one of the best shooters in the game, pushed the 18 players on the camp roster through tough workouts at the high elevation, but he did it with an affable personality that always has served him well.
Point guard Goran Dragic likes the way Hornacek has treated the many youngsters on the team.
''He teaches. He's a teaching coach,'' Dragic said, ''especially with this group. We have young guys and I think he can teach a lot to them. He's got a lot of experience and even if you make a mistake, he just tells you the right way to do it and after that he just lets you play. He doesn't you that you have to do this, this and this and be like a robot.''
After he retired following 14 seasons playing in the NBA, Hornacek didn't want to consider coaching while his children were growing up. Hornacek accepted a job as assistant coach with the Utah Jazz in 2011, then was chosen by new general manager Ryan McDonough to guide the Suns out of the wilderness.
That could take some time, but Hornacek already has goodwill with the team's fans as one of the Suns' most popular players.
''I'd like to go out there and play,'' he said, ''but it's good to get going. We have a lot of different things we can do with this team. We can go small, we can go big, we can go half-court sets, we can run. We've just got to figure out who the best guys to do all those things are.''
It's simply not Hornacek's style to do a lot of yelling at players or micromanage their every move.
''I'm probably more laid back. My thing as a coach is obviously to get them in the right position,'' he said. ''I like talking to these guys, giving them little hints. That's why most of the time the top teams are veteran guys. They learn all those little things over the years that help you in certain situations.''
But McDonough said Hornacek can raise the volume when necessary.
''Jeff pushes the guys pretty hard but he's fair,'' McDonough said. ''He's generally even-keeled. He's not a yeller and a screamer consistently, but when he does raise his voice it grabs the players' attention.''
Dragic barely knew Hornacek before this week. Hornacek and McDonough traveled to watch Dragic play for Slovenia in the European championships but the trio couldn't get together because of the team's schedule. Dragic had talked with his new coach on the phone a couple of times and they had dinner together last season in Utah.
''I've only been here for seven days, but so far so good,'' Dragic said. ''He's a great motivator. When you have a bad practice he tries to lift you up. He's supportive and I think that means a lot, especially for the young players.''
Hornacek's success as a player gives him automatic credibility.
''Most of the guys on the team are so young I'm not sure how much they remember him as a player,'' McDonough said, ''but they're obviously all aware that he was an All-Star and one of the great shooters in NBA history. He went to the finals a couple of times and played at the highest level of NBA basketball. I think that does help but I think it's more the fact is just his personality. He's a likable guy. He pushes them without being a dictator. He listens to them for feedback and the guys feel like they have a part in it.''
Hornacek and his staff - Jerry Sichting, Mike Lombardi, Kenny Gattison and Mark West - are used to being winners.
Now he must have patience with a young team that has a long way to go.
''We know it's going to be a process,'' Hornacek said. ''Hopefully, that process comes along sooner rather than later.''