MILWAUKEE – When Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond set out on the search for a new head coach, he set forth two traits he was looking for in a candidate.
The first was to find someone who could demand the respect out of players and then “coach the heck out of them.” Hammond is confident he’s found the perfect mix of the two in Larry Drew, who was introduced as the 13th head coach in franchise history Monday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Joined by his wife Sharon, two of his three sons and his uncle, Drew displayed a confident demeanor his ways will help the Bucks become a consistent winner.
“One thing I can assure you, when we step out every night, we are going to be a committed group,” Drew said. “We are going to play hard, we are going to play together. My job is to put together a team that this city can be proud of. That’s my goal.
“Just give me some players, give me some guys who are willing to play hard every night, committed to playing for one another, committed to playing for this city. You give me that group of guys, we are going to put a product out on the floor that you are going to be proud of. I understand the challenge here. I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work.”
Drew talked at length about how he plans to build relationships with the players on a personal level. He’s seen his style work for three seasons in Atlanta and doesn’t plan on changing his ways as he takes the reigns in Milwaukee.
“You’re dealing with these guys as individuals and you have to approach it in that manner,” Drew said. “I’ve just seen how important it is to have a relationship with a player.
“It’s more than that player being out on the floor and running up and down that basketball court. I think you have to show you care about him as an individual. I think you have to understand him. You have to be able to push buttons with him.”
Bucks owner Herb Kohl was impressed with Drew during the team’s first interview and felt he was the right man for the job because of the track record he established in Atlanta.
“He’s the real McCoy,” Kohl said. “He’s a person who will do well here and a person I think our fans are going to enjoy. I know our players are going to respect him and like him. And I think when we put our roster together with him this summer, we’ll have a team that can compete and win, and we’ll see how far we can go.”
Drew received a congratulatory text from Hawks forward Kyle Korver he called “very moving” on his flight to Milwaukee, further evidence that Drew is a player’s coach. Relationships with players waned in Milwaukee during the previous regime and that was a priority in the coaching search.
“I’m not going to change,” Drew said. “I’m going to do the exact same thing coming here to Milwaukee. I’m going to get to know my guys. We’re going to become buddies. It will be more than just a coach and player relationship.
“We’re going to become good friends and make sure every time we step out on the floor we’re going to be on the same page, and we’re going to be committed.”
Atlanta let Drew’s contract expire after last season, moving the franchise in a different direction. Drew led the Hawks to the playoffs in each of his three seasons as head coach, including last season when the team wasn’t picked to fare well.
The Hawks were interviewing potential replacements while Drew was still under contract, while Drew’s first interview with the Bucks came while he was still the head coach of the Hawks.
“The last few weeks have been pretty hectic,” Drew said. “It was certainly an awkward situation, but when you stay in this game as long as I have, the most important thing is you don’t take a negative situation and keep it negative. I really thought, even with what the situation was with me in Atlanta, I would get something positive from it.
“The one thing I wanted to do was remain professional about it. It could have been easy to go to the media and kind of blast some people, but I didn’t do that. I wasn’t going to do that because that’s not who Larry Drew is.”
Last season, Atlanta had nine players entering free agency (re-signing just one) and traded All-Star guard Joe Johnson while Drew was in the final year of his contract. The Hawks still earned the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed and took Indiana to six games in the first round.
“You take a group of nine free agents, you take a coach who is going into the last year of his contract, and we were able to accomplish what we accomplish,” Drew said. “I take my hat off to my staff. I’m not the guy who is going to go around tooting my own horn, but I’m very proud of that.”
When Drew did his homework on the Bucks, he saw a defense that he believes isn’t far away from being good. But he also saw a work in progress on the offensive end.
“They are not very far away at all,” Drew said. “There are some things I feel I can bring to this team. I really feel from a coaching standpoint, offensively is where we really have to get better. They finished 28th in the league in field-goal percentage last year. We can improve that. That can be an easy adjustment. It’s a matter of players committing, as my guys did in Atlanta.”
Now that the hoopla of the introductory press conference is over, Drew is ready to get to work in what still is an offseason filled with uncertainty. Though Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick all have unknown futures with the franchise, Drew is confident he can accomplish enough in the summer with the guys under contract.
“We’re going to get started this summer and introducing all the guys who are under contract with what I do, my style of play and what I am expecting out of each young man,” Drew said. “I will be meeting with each guy individually to make sure they understand what I see their roles being.”