About a two and a half years ago (6/1/08 to be exact), I blogged about college basketball players and preparing for the NBA draft. I used an example from my days as Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State. One day, an NBA general manager (whom I didn’t name) came to one of our practices to evaluate one of guys who had extraordinary talent, but was psychologically fragile.
Although the player will continue to remain anonymous, the GM was the Denver Nuggets’ Mark Warkentien. “Stein,” as he is called by those who know him, had been an assistant coach on Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV staff. I’ve known Stein for a couple of decades and am always in awe when we talk about . . . anything! He is the definition of an out-of-the-box thinker. His views on topics, mainly about “people dealing with people” are not just insightful, but original. The following is (most of) what I posted in June, ‘08:
The superior prospect, about to venture into a profession he’s dreamed of, could use some helpful advice during that final season in college (now that kids have to spend at least a year in the field of higher education). What one of our Bulldog players was told by an NBA general manager one day before practice was, by far, the wisest bit of knowledge he learned in college (and believe me or not, he was actually a good student and an intelligent young man).
This GM took him aside and explained what NBA teams who were checking him out wanted to see. I happened to be a participant (as a listener only) to the conversation in which he said, “You know Fresno State’s good enough to be in the NIT … BUT, you guys want to go to the NCAA’s. Well, you know you’re good enough to be a first round pick … BUT you want to be a lottery pick. Think about it. The teams that are picking in the lottery are teams that lose … and because they lose - a lot - they probably have no leaders and no true superstars. When they come to see you play - or practice - don’t show them a guy who’s tough to coach, is moody or is a pain in the butt. That’s what they have now! They don’t need any more of that type of player.”
The youngster genuinely appreciated the remarks and I know Tark did as well, because coming from a guy in a leadership position in the league, advice of that nature will always carry more weight. Kids get used to hearing propaganda from their coaches (”Just because these guys are 2-20, don’t think tonight’s game isn’t going to be a battle”), so coming from someone with no agenda makes a valuable impression and a service that, if you don’t provide as a coach, you’re neglecting your player’s best interests - something you promised him and his parents in that home visit so many months or years ago.
Mark Warkentien was relieved of his job with the Nuggets after last season. The New York Knicks just hired him as their Director of Player Personnel. In addition to being extremely intelligent, no one knows Carmelo Anthony - and the Carmelo Anthony situation - better than Stein. The rumors about Melo joining the Knicks aren’t just rumors.
When it comes to advice, Walter Lippman once said:
“Unless you can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, you will fail.”