Get an inside look at how Coach Smart’s unique background allows him to connect with Kings training camp invitees. Plus, Cousins and Evans dish on Sacramento’s recent team-building exercises.
As a multi-time training camp invitee, who ended up making numerous final rosters, Kings Head Coach Keith Smart can relate to the situation four Sacramento players are facing.
In 1988, Smart, after being drafted and later released by the Golden State Warriors, signed with the San Antonio Spurs after impressing the team with his shooting and defensive prowess. Over the ensuing decade, the 6-foot-1 guard made his mark with a number of squads, in the process, improving as both a player and future coach.
“I went through 10 training camps and probably had to go through … three training camps a year after playing 100 games a year over a nine-year to 10-year period,” says Smart. “With that, I’m able to understand where (the players) are when you’re trying to put them through a training camp and get them ready for a season.”
Throughout his playing career, Smart was able to learn from some of basketball’s brightest minds, including Bobby Knight, Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich.
“As a player, although you didn’t make it, you got a chance to be around some great coaches and that really helped me,” he says.
With his own journey in mind, Smart assisted in strategically selecting the four Kings training camp invitees in order to give the players a realistic opportunity to make the final roster and suit Sacramento’s greatest needs.
“Each guy we brought in fit a definite purpose coming to camp, and if it so happens he makes our team, he fits that need our team wants,” says Smart.
“We wanted someone we knew could be physical with (DeMarcus Cousins) all throughout camp, and that was Cyril (Awere). We wanted an active shot-blocker – that was (Hamady) N’Diaye – (and) a runner and a quick leaper off his feet – that was Willie Reed. (We brought) another small forward that was with us in Summer League, Tony Mitchell, who could push some of the veterans.”
Now, Smart explains, the rest is up to each player to emerge from the pack.
“They’ve got to do things that make us – myself and the coaching staff – go, ‘Wow, did you see that guy today?’” says the Kings leader. “They can’t (blend in) … I’ve been in that role, I understand you’ve got to come in and stand out with something you’re doing and you have to have limited mistakes. The effort level, that’s all up to them.”
After four days of training camp, Mitchell – who compares learning an entirely new set of NBA plays to his first day at college – believes more than exciting the coaches, he needs to live up to his own high standards.
“Not getting drafted really didn’t mean anything – it just means I have to go out there and work harder,” he says.
“(It’s not) about impressing anybody – it’s about working hard to impress myself and knowing I can go out and play with these guys and run around and be just one of them and make the team.”
While Reed calls training camp a fun learning experience during which he’s also put in a tremendous amount of effort, he recognizes in order to make the roster, he needs to stick with the skills that have guided him through his career.
“The only (things) I need to do (are) play good defense (and) rebound. If I can, then I should have a great opportunity and get some (playing) time,” he says.
“I just think I need to stay inside of my circle – don’t try to do anything I know I can’t do.”
The St. Louis product reveals he has benefited by studying from an established Kings veteran who possesses a tireless work ethic.
“I’d have to say I’ve learned from Jason Thompson,” says Reed. “Just watching him play every day, his positioning, how he moves without the ball – looking up to a guy like that, you can learn a lot, so I’m just going to keep my eyes open and continue to learn.”
– On Friday morning, the Kings visited Action Learning Center at Broadmoor Resort for outdoor team-building activities, which included working together to scale 30-foot walls, walk across tight-rope courses and solve team challenges.
“It was a great exercise for us – we got out there and you had to trust your teammate. The coaches had to trust the players that they were involved with,” said Smart. “You had a great high-wire act (in which) you had to let go of something in order to reach for something else, but you had to have your teammate give you the support – and of course, you’re about 60 feet off the ground.
“Even knowing with all of the equipment … we couldn’t fall, it still went out the window and you still had to wait for your teammate to trust he’s going to help you get through it.”
Following some initial hesitation, players established a greater foundation of communication, trust and unity after depending on one another to overcome the obstacles.
“When we first got there, all of us were like, ‘We don’t know about this,’” said Cousins. “We were in the mountains, it was cold, it was uncomfortable, (but) the whole idea of the trip was being comfortable, being uncomfortable. In the end, it was a good experience – we learned a lot and to complete the tasks that were at hand, we had to work together.”
Tyreke Evans – who admits he’s not fond of heights, unless he’s riding a roller coaster – was similarly pleased to see his teammates come together and help each other succeed.
“We were cheering each other on – guys were scared, but we still pushed them through, so it was a good thing for us to do,” said No. 13.
– Forward Jason Thompson, entering his fifth NBA season, acknowledges in order to take the next step on the court, team communication needs to extend to the defensive end.
“You look at the great defensive teams – with Boston, Chicago, Miami – they’re always talking,” he says. “You see them on nationally-televised games, and you can hear them sometimes on the floor over the commentators, and that’s what makes good teams (turn) into great teams.
“We were sixth in scoring last year with the talent we had, but didn’t win the number of games we wanted to win,” No. 34 continued. “Now, we’ve got to dig down deep and get defensive stops, and defense is going to give us easy fastbreak points. If we all buy in to getting stops, finishing with rebounds and controlling the game like that, we can be a scary team.”
– After most players and coaches left Saturday’s morning session, Thomas Robinson put in extra work by shooting jumpshots with Assistant Coach Clifford Ray.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is team chemistry to success?