Wednesday, November 25, 2015

J-Speaks: Defending NBA Champion Warriors Make History

When the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors began this season, there were some questions posed about their chances of repeating. For starters, how would the team fair without their head coach Steve Kerr who is still out because of back surgery he had this off-season? How much better can the likes of Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Fetus Ezeli get and could they dynamic backcourt of Stephen Curry, last season’s MVP and Klay Thompson, a.k.a. “The Splash Brothers,” continue to play at a high level? The team has answered those questions in a big way by winning each game that they have played and on Tuesday night against an inferior opponent, they made NBA history.

There 111-77 victory over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers (2-12) on national television, the defending champs won their 16th consecutive game to start the 2015-16 season, setting a new franchise record. The previous mark of 15-0 had been held by the 1948-49 Washington Capitols, who went 38-22 that season and the 1993-94 World Champion Houston Rockets, who a franchise record 58 games in the regular season.

“Pretty cool accomplishment to start the season 16-0 and to do something that’s never been done in NBA history,” Curry, who had 24 points on 10 for 21 shooting, nine assists and two steals said after the game to NBA on TNT’s Kristen Ledlow.

“A lot of season left, but were on the right track.”

Along with making league history, the Warriors made team history by winning their 27th straight game at Oracle Arena. Their last setback at home was on Jan. 27, a 113-111 overtime setback to the Chicago Bulls (9-4), who they defeated last Friday at home 106-94 to improve their record to 14-0.

The Warriors also made history in scoring over 100 points for the 43rd time in succession at home, which is the longest streak since the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets and this was the also the 16th game this season that the Warriors have scored over 100 points.

While the Warriors have gotten to this incredible point early on in the season with a high octane offense, that is No. 1 in the league in points scored per game at 114.3; field goal percentage at 48.7; assists per contest at 29.6; three-pointer made per game at 12.4 and is second in NBA in three-point percentage at 41.0 percent, it has been what they have done at the defensive end, particularly this season that has them seriously in the conversation of repeating as champions.

They are 10th in “The Association” in points allowed at 98.7; ninth in rebounds per contest at 45.5; tied for fourth with the San Antonio Spurs (11-3) in opponent’s field goal percentage surrendering just 42.4 percent and they lead the league in opponent’s three-point percentage allowed giving up just 28.8 percent to this point. They are ranked fifth in block shots per contest at 6.3 and steals per game at 9.4 and eighth in forcing turnovers at 15.6.

In their record setting win against the Lakers this past Tuesday night, the Lakers shot just 37.8 percent from the field; made just three three-point field goals in 20 attempts; out-rebounded them 48-44; recorded nine steals and six block shots.

To put the difference in the direction of these two teams into perspective, the Warriors had 32 assists, doubling the Lakers, who had just 16.

Early in the game when the Lakers recorded their first assists, the Warriors already had 11 dimes at that point.

“It’s amazing. To set a record like this, you’re talking about NBA history, all-times. There’s been some great players, great teams to come through this league and to set a record for most wins to start a season it shows our focus level. It show the growth of this team. The growth of this organization. It’s pretty amazing,” Green, who had 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter said to ESPN’s Marc Stein after the game on Tuesday night. The former second round pick out of Michigan State also had seven rebounds, five assists and two block shots.

The biggest growth has come from the reigning MVP himself in Curry, who is leading the NBA in scoring per game at 32.1, but is averaging a career-high of 5.1 rebounds per game to go along with 5.9 assists per contest and is shooting a career-high 51.2 percent from the floor early into this season. He showed all of it in the team’s home opener against the New Orleans Pelicans back on Oct. 28, when he scored 24 of his game-high 40 points in the first quarter as the Warriors to down the Pelicans (3-11) again 111-95, beating the Hornets for the fifth straight time dating back to their Quarterfinals series a year ago in which the eventual champs swept New Orleans 4-0. Curry, who shot 14 for 26 from the field, including 5 for 12 from three-point territory and 7 for 7 from the foul line had six boards, seven assists and two steals.

When the Warriors met the Pelicans again in their house, the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA, Curry was remarkable again scoring 28 of his game-high 53 points in the third quarter as the Warriors knocked off the Pelicans again 134-120.

Not only did the reigning MVP go 10 for 13 from the floor in the third quarter, including 5 for 7 from three-point range, he outscored the Pelicans team by two points (28-26) in the third quarter. Curry finished 17 for 27 from the field, including going 8 for 14 from three-point range in the third period and 11 for 11 from the charity stripe, while also recording nine assists and four steals.

To put this great start by Curry into perspective, he has scored 30 points or more five times; 40 points or more four times and has scored under 20 points just once when he had 19 points, but had seven assists, four boards and three steals as the Warriors won at the Denver Nuggets (6-9) 118-105 this past Sunday night to tie the Rockets and Capitols for best starts to a season in NBA history at 15-0.

The dominance of Curry has masked the somewhat inconsistent play of his fellow back court mate in Thompson (16.2 ppg, 43.6 FG%, 39.8 3-Pt.%).

As mentioned earlier, he is not the only reason that the team is off to this historic great start. The aforementioned Green (12.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg-Leads team), who has become the heart and soul of the defending champions has improved his scoring by one point from a season ago, his 10th in the league in assists per contest at 6.6 and is having a career-year shooting wise at 48.4 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from three-point range.

On many occasions this season, Green came close to a triple-double and recorded one with 16 points, 10 rebounds and tied a career-high with 12 assists to go along with four blocks and two steals in the team 107-99 overtime win versus the Brooklyn Nets (3-11) back  on Nov. 14.

After a solid rookie season four years back, starting forward Harrison Barnes regressed in year two shooting just 39.9 percent from the field. Last season, the No. 7 overall pick in 2012 draft out of North Carolina bounced back scoring 10.1 points and grabbing 5.5 boards per contest while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from three-point range. This season, he has taken off scoring wise averaging a career-high of 13.8 points per contest on a career-best 49.7 percent from the field, an amazing 39.6 percent from three-point range, a stellar 88.4 percent from the charity stripe and getting 4.9 boards per contest.

Along with the greatness of Curry, Green and Barnes, the Warriors have gotten steady play from Finals MVP in swingman Andre Iguodala (9.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.2 apg); guards Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston and backup center Festus Ezeli, who is having a break out season of his own averaging 8.1 points, 5.9 boards and 1.6 blocks per contest.

The progress of the 30th overall pick in the aforementioned 2012 draft has been a big help, especially when starting center Andrew Bogut (7.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.7 bpg-Leads team) missed six games in this early stretch because of a concussion. Ezeli’s growth has given the Warriors a solid rotation in the pivot position.

The play of the Warriors has also exemplified the influence of Kerr even though he has not been present on the floor with them. Interim head coach Luke Walton has kept this team on track by being himself and continuing to harp on the principles that helped the Warriors capture the organization’s first title in four decades a season ago.

They play on both ends of the court with purpose and focus. They pass the basketball to where they trade a good shot attempt for a great shot attempt. They only care about winning the game as a team and not as individuals and that they respect each other and that everyone from the stars in Curry, Barnes and Thompson to role players Barbosa, Livingston and to guys not getting much time in games now like Marreese Speights, Ian Clark, Brandon Rush, Jason Thompson and James Michael McAdoo has a role to play. 

As far as how long this team can go undefeated, it can go as long as they want it to go. With that being said this team will not win 70 games this season, like the 1995-96 World Champion Chicago Bulls, who won 72 games that season. For starters they have yet to play the Spurs, who they will play three times this season, all in 2016 or the defending East champion Cleveland Cavaliers (11-3), who they will host on Christmas Day on ABC. More than anything else, the Warriors are the defending champs and to the rest of the league, they are their big game on the schedule.

At the end of the day, what the defending champion Golden State Warriors have done has been incredible. They have shown the importance of team chemistry, the value of doing the unglamorous things in order to achieve victory and more than anything they are not satisfied with just one title. They want another and their play has shown they will not give up their crown very easily.    

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 11/1/15 2 a.m. edition NBATV’s “Gametime” with Matt Winer, Grant Hill and Rick Fox, report from Craig Sager; 11/24/15 NBA on TNT contest Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors with commentators Marv Albert, Grant Hill and sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow; 11/25/15 1 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and Tim Legler;;;; _of_Houston_Rockets_seasons;

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

J-Speaks: Glass Ceiling Breaker For FOX Sports Southeast

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), seeing a woman doing sideline reporting, pre-game analysis or in-game commentating has become common place. The likes Allie Clifton, who does sideline reporting for the Cleveland Cavaliers of FOX Sports Ohio; Rebecca Haarlow, who is the sideline reporter for the New York Knicks of the Madison Square Garden Network; Leslie McCaslin, who is both the sideline reporter and pre-game host for the Oklahoma City Thunder of FOX Sports Oklahoma; Abby Chin, who is the sideline reporter for the Boston Celtics of Comcast Sportsnet New England and Sara Kustok and Nancy Newman who are the sideline reporter and in anchor host for Brooklyn Nets of Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network. As far as being a broadcaster for NBA games, there have been a few that have gotten that great opportunity like Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller, who also was a great sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT; Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman had the chance on a couple of occasions to be a color analyst and basketball lifer Stephanie Ready has done it on a few occasions for the Charlotte Hornets on FOX Sports Southeast. Well this season, the Ready, who has also served as the host of the pre-game Hornets live broke a major glass ceiling back when the Hornets opened the 2015-16 season back on Oct. 28 in South Florida.

When the Hornets began their eighth season being broadcast on FOX Sports Southeast when they played at the Miami Heat, Ready, who is in her 12th season with the organization became the first full-time female NBA game color analyst as she joined Long-time sports play-by-play man Eric Collins, who replaced legendary Hornets play-by-play man Steve Martin and original Hornet Dell Curry, who also did Hornets Live with Ready the past few seasons, when they were known as the Bobcats.

“It is so exciting. We’ve been waiting for the season to start seems like forever now, but now, especially with my new role, I’m thrilled and excited to sit next to Dell for in game analysis so we can do it together instead of only in the pre-game show,” Ready said.

Ready became the latest ceiling breaker in sports the past few months. She joined Becky Hammon, who became the first full-time NBA assistant head coach when she joined the San Antonio Spurs staff a season ago and led their Summer League team to a championship. The aforementioned Lieberman became the second woman to be a full-time assistant coach when she joined head coach George Karl’s staff of the Sacramento Kings. Jen Walter served as an intern coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Sara Thomas became the first full-time female official and former 4-time First Team All-American softball player at Stanford Jessica Mendoza became the first full-time Major League Baseball analyst for ESPN.

“Jess Mendoza has been an amazing broadcaster. I actually got to watch her last night and this morning. She’s doing a fantastic,” Ready said of seeing Mendoza on a broadcast of “Baseball Tonight,” on ESPN on that Monday night of Oct. 27.

Ready put that moment of what she is doing into perspective when she mentioned during the pre-game seeing a picture of Thomas and Walter on the field back this past summer and said she got goosebumps from seeing that and called it, “thrilling.”

While she may be the first full-time female broadcaster, this is not the first glass ceiling she has broken.

The Coppin State University grad, who had a standout career on the basketball court finishing second all-time in steals, fourth in assists, eighth in points and 10th in rebounds became just the third woman ever to coach Division I men’s basketball when the head coach of the Eagles Ron “Fang” Mitchell hired her in 2001. Ready joined Jennifer Johnston of Oakland University in Michigan and Bernadette Mattox, who was a part of the University of Kentucky Wildcats coaching staff from 1990-95 under current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

How much confidence did Mitchell have in the former Eagle, who graduated from her alma mater cum laude with her B.A. in psychology, she had the responsibility to recruit off-campus.

“It was a no-brainer,” Mitchell said back then to of his decision to hire Ready. “She’s very detail-oriented and one of the most organized people I’ve had the pleasure to work with.”

When the new NBA Developmental League, also known as the D-League hired Ready as the first woman coach ever to be a part of a pro basketball team when she was hired by the Greenvale Groove, many saw it as a stunt to generate interest to the new league comprised of former collegiate hardwood stars and former overseas players.

Before resigning from her position with her alma mater, Mitchell gave a great endorsement to NBDL senior directors of basketball Karl Hicks and Rob Levine.

“Coach Ready is there to help us and we want to help her,” Groove guard at the time Merl Code said to USA Today.

Ready helped in a major way as the Groove did win a championship during her time from 2001-2003.

“It helped me tremendously,” Ready said of her time in the D-League, which consisted of her assembling player manuals, which consisted of team rules and offensive and defensive strategies.

“The whole entire D-League experience is basically an area where you can cut your teeth if you will as a player and as a coach and even executives in the front office. You get there so you can learn your trade and if your trade happens to be basketball then there’s no better place to learn it. You’re a part of the NBA family.”  

One person who has seen Ready’s journey up close at times has been former Hornets guard Matt Carroll, who was the 2004-05 Most Valuable Player of the D-League when he played for the Roanoke Dazzle. Carroll, who spent six of his 10 NBA seasons with the Hornets now serves as their Community Ambassador and as radio analyst and was the co-host of Hornets Live back on Oct. 28 alongside Jenn Hildreth.    

To become great more often than not, you have to believe you can do it and then go out and put you noise to the grind stone and do it, That is how Stephanie Ready reached the heights where she is at this very moment from being an amazing collegiate on the hardwood as well as in volleyball. To becoming a barrier breaker as an assistant coach in the collegiate and pro ranks, which got her an appearance once on NBC’s “Today” and being named by Ebony magazine as one of “The 56 Most Intriguing Blacks of 2001” to doing incredible work in front of the camera during pre-game, sideline reporting during the game and postgame and now as a color analyst.

“I think part of it is because I’ve been with this organization for so long, I’m really comfortable,” Ready said of her first broadcast as a color analyst.

“I’ve sat in that chair before. I’m excited more than nervous Matt because I get to sit next to Dell [Curry].” 

Information and quotations are courtesy of 10/28/15 6:30 p.m. edition of Hornets Live presented by Felix Sabates’ Mercedes Benz of South Charlotte hosted by Eric Collins, Stephanie Ready and Dell Curry, in studio host Jenn Hildreth and Matt Carroll; 8/27/15 article “FOX Sports Southeast Announces 2015-16 Hornets Telecast Team,” via;;

J-Speaks: The NBA Losses a Proud Coach to Cancer

From 1989-96, the Minnesota Timberwolves were one of the worst franchises in the National Basketball Association. The hiring of an in state collegiate standout selection and the selection of unknown high school phenome eventually turn them into a contender. That head coach would return for his second stint with the team as their President of Basketball Operations and eventually their head coach. Over the past two seasons, he would help to orchestrate the rebuilding of the team back into the playoff contender that they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately he would not be able to see the finished product as his lost the greatest battle that he ever faced.

Early Sunday morning, Oct. 25, Philip Daniel “Flip” Saunders, head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves passed away from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 60 years old.

He is survived by his wife of 37 years Debbie; son Ryan, who is an assistant coach on the T’Wolves staff; daughter Mindy and twin daughters Kim and Rachel. All four children attended the University of Minnesota.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher and Columbus, OH native was diagnosed with this form of cancer on Aug. 11.

He underwent treatment and the question was will he be able to coach the upcoming NBA season?

After being hospitalized following complications back in September, T’Wolves owner Glen Taylor made the announcement that Saunders would not coach the 2015-16 season for the Timberwolves and named head coach on an interim basis former T’Wolves player Sam Mitchell and the duties in the front office went to general manager Milt Newton.

When Saunders passed away last month, the team named Mitchell, a former NBA Coach of the Year with the Toronto Raptors in 2007 and who played 10 of his 14 NBA seasons with the Timberwolves the new head coach and Newton the team’s new GM.

To truly bring the impact that Saunders had on the T’Wolves organization into perspective, 15-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, a.k.a. “KG” on his Facebook page a photograph of himself in a hooded shirt sitting in front of the parking spot in the team’s parking lot staring at his coaches’ name plate on the wall and underneath the photo “KG” wrote a message: “Forever in my heart…”

“The NBA family is mourning today over the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Flip Saunders,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement back on Oct. 26.

“Flip’s untimely passing has left a gaping hole in the fabric of our league. Flip was a beloved figure around the NBA, nowhere more than in Minnesota, demonstrating a genuine and consistent passion for his players, his team and the game. On behalf of the NBA, we offer our most sincere condolences to Flip’s wife, Debbie, their four children and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization.”

Saunders basketball journey began at Cuyahoga Heights High School in suburban Cleveland, OH where he became an All-State great. In 1973, his senior year, he averaged 32.0 points per contest leading the state and being named Ohio’s Class A High School Basketball Player of the Year.

He would go on to play at the University of Minnesota where he started 101 out of 163 games with the Golden Gophers, teaming up alongside future NBA stars like Ray Williams; NBA champion Mychal Thompson; Hall of Famer, three-time NBA champion future boss with the T’Wolves and current Houston Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale and Osborne Lockhart.

Saunders then moved on to coaching beginning at Golden Valley Lutheran College, where he went an impressive 92-13, including 56-0 mark at home in four seasons.

In 1981, Saunders served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Minnesota and help to lead the Golden Gophers to the Big Ten title.

Five seasons later, Saunders moved on to be an assistant at the University of Tulsa for two seasons.

He then tried his coaching hand at the then Continental Basketball Association (CBA) as the leader of the Rapid City Thrillers in the 1988-89 season where he served under former head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors Eric Musselman, who was the team manager. Musselman’s father, Bill was the one who recruited Flip to attend the University of Minnesota when he was the head coach.

The next season, Saunders became the head coach of the La Crosse Catbirds from 1989-94, capturing two CBA championships before moving on again to be the head man of the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Along with being head coach of Catbirds, Saunders was the GM from 1991-93 and served as team president from 1991-94.

When his CBA coaching career concluded, Saunders amassed seven straight seasons of 30 wins or more; two CBA titles (1990 and 1992); two CBA Coach of the Year Awards (1989 and 1992) and 23 players who played for him got a call up to the NBA. Above all else, he finished with 253 career CBA wins, which ranked 2nd in the league’s history.

On May 11, 1995, McHale, who was now the Vice President of Basketball Operations of the Timberwolves hired his former Golden Gopher teammate Saunders to work under him as the GM and seven months and seven days later he was named head coach of the team replacing Bill Blair after the team started the 1995-96 season 6-14.

The team finished just 20-42 under Saunders, but Garnett, who the T’Wolves drafted fifth overall in the 1995 draft out of Farragut Academy in Chicago, IL really was emerging as a front line player in the second half of the season. He would average 10.4 points and 6.3 boards and 1.6 blocks in his rookie season.

In the 1996 NBA draft, the Timberwolves added another star player in acquiring the rights to future All-Star guard Stephon Marbury, who was drafted No. 4 overall out of Georgia Tech for future NBA champion Ray Allen, whose draft rights went to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The addition of Marbury alongside Garnett and forward Tom Gugliotta, the T’Wolves in Saunders first full season as head coach went 40-42 in the 1996-97 season and made the playoffs for the first time in team history, they lost to the eventual Western Conference runner-up Houston Rockets in three-game sweep.

That season, Garnett, who along with Gugliotta became the first pair of T’Wolves to be named to the All-Star team that season averaged 18.5 points and 9.6 boards per contest and Marbury averaged 17.7 points and 8.6 assists in his rookie season.

The next season, the Timberwolves posted their first winning season in franchise history going 45-37. In the playoffs, they took the defending Western Conference champion Seattle Supersonics to the brink in the opening round, but eventually fell in five games.

The team’s best season in terms of victories came in 1999-2000 when they captured their first 50-win season, but fell again in the Quarterfinals to the West runner up the Portland Trail Blazers in four games.

Over the next three seasons, the Timberwolves won 47, 50 and a new franchise record 51 games, but had early playoff exits each time.

The team’s best season came in 2003-04 when “KG” got some much needed help with the additions of two-time NBA champion guard Sam Cassell, guard Latrell Sprewell and center Ervin Johnson.

Garnett won his only MVP Award of his career that season with 24.2 points, 13.9 boards and five assists per contest in leading the T’Wolves to a franchise record 58 wins and the top seed in the West and the second best record in the league.

Saunders also that season was the head coach of the Western Conference All-Star team.

They garnered their first playoff series win by taking down the Denver Nuggets and then rookie forward Carmelo Anthony in four games. They defeated the Kings in the Semifinals in a thrilling seven game series. At the end of Game 7, Garnett leaped onto the scorer’s table of the Target Center, marking one of the few great moments in the history of the franchise. The magical season for the T’Wolves ended at the hands of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in six games.

The 2004-05 season was supposed to be one where the T’Wolves got over the hump, but instead were plagued by internal problems, especially with the contracts of Sprewell, Cassell and Troy Hudson. A change was needed in a major way and McHale made the difficult call and fired his former teammate Saunders and replaced him as head coach.

Since his departure, the T’Wolves have not made the playoffs in the last nine seasons.

On July 21, 2005 Saunders was hired as the new head coach of the Detroit Pistons replacing Larry Brown, who moved on to coach the New York Knicks.

In year one under Saunders, the defending Eastern Conference champions won a franchise record 64 games, which included a franchise record 27 road victories.

Saunders served as head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, where he coached four of the five Piston starters in starting guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, starting forward Rasheed Wallace and starting center Ben Wallace.

“He’s a player’s coach. No ego. No nothing,” Billups said of Saunders back in 2006. “He’s an offensive guru. I knew that it would be a perfect marriage.

They got through the Bucks in Round 1 of the playoffs 4-1. They survived the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games, but fell in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat 4-2.

The Pistons went 53-29 the next season and made it back to the Conference Finals for the fifth straight season, but the Cavs got them winning the final four games of the series to send the Pistons packing in six games.

The 2008-09 season saw the Pistons win 59 games and advanced back to the Conference Finals for a sixth straight season. Once again, they would fall again in six games to the eventual NBA champion, this time it was the Boston Celtics, led by Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce.

On June 3, 2008 Saunders was fired by the Pistons and two-time champion and president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said the team needed a “new voice.”

After taking a year off from coaching, Saunders signed a reported four-year $18 million deal to be the head coach of the Washington Wizards on Apr. 14, 2009.

Unlike his first two coaching stops, Saunders found no success in D.C. as the team never won more than 26 games in his two-plus season. Those 26 wins came in year one under his guidance.

Saunders was fired by the Wizards on Jan. 24, 2012 and was replaced by current Wizards’ head coach Randy Wittman, who used to coach the Timberwolves. Saunders went 51-130 with the Wizards.

Before he returned to the Timberwolves in 2013, Saunders on Apr. 29, 2012 joined the Boston Celtics as an advisor and prior to that worked with ESPN as an NBA analyst.

During his time there, he left a memorable impression, especially on current host of ESPN’s “KIA NBA Countdown” Sage Steele and former NBA player and head coach Doug Collins.

On the Oct. 28 edition of the show, Steele talked about one of the most memorable conversations she had with him about Garnett asking him about his reputation as a dirty player.

Saunders smiled at Steele and he said to her, “Let me tell you about KG.” About 15 minutes later the conversation continued and it had nothing to do about what he did on the hardwood. The entire conversation consisted of stories of over a dozen stories about how the relationship between the future Hall of Famer and the all-time leader in head coaching wins in T’Wolves history was like a father and son one.

About a week later, she would find on her desk in her cubicle at ESPN’s main headquarters in Bristol, CT a bobble head of KG with a note from Saunders saying, “Give this to your kids. This is the kind of man you should want them to cheer for.”

Steele really got emotional about Saunders when she talked about the aforementioned photograph that “KG” put of himself sitting in Saunders parking spot on his Facebook page.

“It really hit home for me and so many people. Their relationship was so much more than player coach,” she said of “KG” and Saunders.

“To call it rare I think is a massive understatement plain and simple. There’s a pretty good chance that you will never meet a nicer more caring person in the NBA than ‘Flip’ Saunders. Kevin Garnett and all of us who were fortunate enough to have known him, Philip Daniel Saunders, will miss him dearly.

Collins echoed those same feelings on the broadcast when he talked about how Saunders invited his son Chris to training camp with the T’Wolves back in the late 1990s.

In his senior season at Duke University, the younger Collins broke his leg and the chances of being drafted into the league really shrunk so he went over and played in Europe.

Saunders said yes to giving the young Collins an invite to training camp and in a pre-season game against his father’s team the Pistons, Chris hit a three-pointer to close the 1st half and he looked over to his dad and said “Aren’t I in the scouting report. You know I can shoot the ball dad.”

“Flip was the ultimate coach. He was a gentleman, but an incredible competitor,” Collins said of Saunders back on Oct. 28.

In his final act before his untimely passing, Saunders came back to the T’Wolves on May 3, 2013 as President of Basketball Operations and on June 5, 2014 was named head coach.

In the 2013 draft, the team traded guard Trey Burke, who they selected with the No. 9 overall pick for the No. 14 overall pick in swingman Shabazz Muhammad out of UCLA and No. 21 overall pick in center Gorgui Dieng out of Louisville.

On Aug. 23, 2014 in a three-team deal involving the Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers, the T’Wolves traded Kevin Love to the Cavs and acquired forward/guard Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. In that same draft, they selected at No. 13 overall guard Zach LaVine, who is also out of UCLA.

While they did not make the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, Wiggins won the 2014 Rookie of the Year and during the 2014 All-Star Weekend, LaVine won the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest.

To fill the void of a veteran presence, the Timberwolves acquired Garnett from the Brooklyn Nets after he waived his no-trade clause

Having the worst record gave the T’Wolves the highest odds at 25 percent to win the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft at the 2015 draft lottery and on May 19, the team won  that top pick and used it on center Karl Anthony-Towns, taking him No. 1 overall back on June 25.

They also acquired the rights through a trade with the Cavs guard Tyus Jones from the National Champion Duke Blue Devils.

In free agency, the Timberwolves signed veteran guard Andre Miller and former NBA champion with the Pistons in forward Tayshaun Prince.

On Oct. 25, the NBA not only lost a proud member of its family, it lost one of the greatest offensive minds in league history. It lost a man who took a franchise that was a perennial loser and turned it into a playoff regular and had them on the doorstep of making it into The Finals. He returned to that team and along with management built it back to where their future is a lot better than it was a few years prior. More than anything else, he had a way of impacting people from the players he coached, to upper management to young people he was around the most important thing that they can be given, his time and his focus.

Philip Daniel “Flip” Saunders gave everything he had to the game of basketball and to his family and gained the love and respect of all those he was able to be around and it made him a winner on the hardwood as a collegiate, as a minor league head coach and executive and as a pro head coach, where he went 654-594 with the Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards and as an executive.

“The NBA lost a beloved brother, former coach. Really successful in this league. Touched a lot of different players in three different stops. I want to see his team [Timberwolves] play inspired in tribute to him this year,” Jalen Rose said back on Oct. 28.  
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 10/26/15 article by Brian Windhorst, Tim MacMahon and The Associated Press “Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders dies of Cancer at Age 60;” 10/28/15 7 p.m. edition of KIA “NBA Countdown” on ESPN hosted by Sage Steele, Doug Collins and Jalen Rose; Facebook page of Kevin Garnett;;

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

J-Speaks: The Passing of ABA Star

Before the National Basketball Association, the most popular professional league was the American Basketball Association (ABA) and it was full of stars like Julius “Dr. J.” Erving. There was another big star during that time and he was just as great, if not greater. His trademark intensity on the hardwood made him a multiple Most Valuable Player Award Winner and multiple time All-Star selection. Above all else, he started a long line of greats to come out of unknown high school back then that is very well known now. Last month, this great person as well as a great basketball player passed on.

Hall of Fame forward Mel Daniels, who blossomed in the ABA with the Indiana Pacers passed away on Oct. 30th from complications following heart surgery. He was 71 years old. He is survived by his wife CeCe Daniels, their son Mel Daniels, Jr., two granddaughters and two sisters.

In eight ABA seasons, six of them with the Indiana Pacers, Daniels was a two-time ABA MVP (1969, 1971); seven time ABA All-Star (1968-74); four-time All-ABA First Team selection (1968-71); named to the ABA All-Time Team and he along with Roger Brown, current NBA on TNT/NBATV analyst Reggie Miller and George McGinnis are the only retired players to have their jersey retired by the Pacers.

“Words cannot express the depth of my sadness today. Mel Daniels was a father figure, brother, consigliere, but most of all MY UNCLE MEL,” Miller said of the passing of Daniels.

“He helped raise me into the man I am. I hope I made him proud in everything I tried to do on, but more importantly off the basketball court. My heart goes out CeCe and the Daniels family.

Daniels journey to basketball immortality began and Pershing High School in Detroit, MI, which also produced fellow Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood, Ralph Simpson and future NBA champions like forward Kevin Willis and current NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst Steve Smith, who said over the weekend that Daniels had a huge impact on him getting into the pros.

What Smith really respected about the pro career of Daniels is how he played and how right from the start of the game how he would set the tone when he and the Pacers took the hardwood.

Smith got a chance to meet Daniels once and gave the former Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawk, Portland Trail Blazer, the then New Orleans Hornet and then Charlotte Bobcat said that he was grateful for his words of encouragement and how he embraced a lot of young basketball players especially one that won it all in the NBA and attended the same high school he did.

“Sad to see him go. Just thinking about his family and hoping everything is well with them,” Smith said during NBATV’s “Gametime.”

The next leg of Daniels basketball journey took him to Burlington Community College and then to the University of New Mexico from 1964-67. He averaged 20 points per contest and for the Lobos and was named a Consensus Second-Team All-American in 1967. Daniels was also a two-time First-team All- Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 1966 and 1967

Daniels was selected No. 9 overall in the 1967 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA and he was also drafted by the Minnesota Muskies of the ABA.

He chose to play in the ABA and in his first season was named the 1967-68 ABA Rookie of the Year and the 1968 ABA All-Rookie First Team.

Daniels was traded to the Pacers, who were part of the ABA back then and now are a part of the ABA. It was here where Daniels made a name for himself in the league winning the MVP in 1969 and 1971. He also elevated the Pacers into one of the elite franchise in the ABA as they captured three ABA championships in 1970, 1972 and 1973.

“Mel was the hero. He was a guy who you could count on. I think the consistency of his performance made the Pacers the ABA’s most successful franchise in its history,” Erving once said about Daniels.

Daniels was one of the best rebounders in the ABA leading the league in that category for three seasons. He was the league’s leader in total boards with 9,494 and career rebounding average at 15.1 per contest.

That great ability to garner carom after carom game in and game out came from an unbelievable ability to control the paint came from a trademark intensity. That great emotion also helped Daniels grab 1,608 career rebounds in the postseason.

In 1997, Daniels was selected by a panel of ABA sports media, referees and executives to be a member of the ABA All-Time Team.

Erving remembers back then that whenever Daniels would grab a rebound or blocked a shot, he would growl.

“He was the main guy. He was the mainstay that anchored the three championships for the Indiana Pacers,” former ABA head coach and current NBA analyst for ESPN Hubie Brown said of Daniels.

Daniels had a brief period in the NBA with the New York Nets back in the 1976-77 season, where his basketball playing career would conclude.

He would then shift his focus to coaching as he joined the coaching staff of his college coach at New Mexico Bob King at Indiana State University where he coached future Hall of Famer, three-time NBA champion and current President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers Larry Bird.

“I grew up a Pacer fan by watching Mel Daniels,” Bird said. “So that really was my first look at professional basketball.”

Daniels joined the front office of the Pacers in 1986 and up until October 2009 served as the team’s Director of Player Personnel.

On Sept. 7, 2012 Daniels was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA and formally joined former ABA greats like Connie Hawkins (1992), Dan Issel (1993), David Thompson (1996) and Artis Gilmore (2011) in the Hall.

As mentioned earlier, Daniels was a great player on the court, where he averaged 18.4 points and 14.9 rebounds per game, he was a wonderful person off the court.

Former NBA head coach and current color analyst for NBA on TNT and television analyst on NBATV Mike Fratello said that Daniels is “one of the nicest men that I’ve me along the way in the NBA.

“He had a tremendous love for the game of basketball. Every game he was at, he’d walk about and want to talk about it and you could tell how much he loved basketball. What it had done for his life.”

Daniels, according to Fratello would greet people by shaking their hand so much so that he would clench it and try to turn it to dust because he had huge hands.

There are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame that had great careers on the hardwood. There are a lot of players that played professional basketball that were great to talk to and enjoyed being with and around their fans. Mel Daniels had both in spades. He was incredible on the hardwood and a wonderful ambassador for the ABA off of the court. He was a Hall of Famer on the court and a Hall of Fame person off of it.
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of 10/31/15 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Mike Fratello, report from Kristen Ledlow;