After we finished last season with CSKA by winning the VTB League, I went home for a couple of weeks. Then I moved over to San Antonio to sign my contract and – more importantly – find a house and a school for Filippo.
Sure, there’s a lot to talk about but two things really stood out for me from the start. The first happened on August, 18th. In the morning I took my son to school, dropped him off there and went to the office to watch some film. Can you guess who was at the gym when I arrived? Right, Tim Duncan. On his own, working to get himself into shape.
Just imagine: August, 18th. That was like “pre- preseason”, about a month and a half before actual preseason started. And a superstar, a legend was already there doing conditioning and working on fundamentals. This one example gives you the best possible idea on what the Spurs are all about and what their philosophy is.
Then on September, 1st it was time to start what they call “open gym”. Basically, that meant the assistant coaches were to come to the gym early in the morning every day to help the players get into shape. That’s 100% voluntary for the players. But with the exception of guys who spent the summer with their National Teams, everybody was there. Guys like Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili were rehabbing from injuries. Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and all the young players were working on their skills. Again, this is the philosophy of the club that the players share.
One of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the “we can’t skip any steps” principle
The Spurs do things together. There’s a lot of respect for everybody, and everybody is expected to give his or her opinion and help the group. It’s a unique philosophy of working together and facing adversity together as well. Coach Popovich has this rare ability to combine his demanding nature with the most sincere care for everyone within the organization. Players, management, coaches, doctors, physiotherapists – he cares about all of them. And that makes everyone proud to be a part of the organization. This is family first, basketball club second.
Also, one of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the “we can’t skip any steps” principle. It means there’s time and place for every process. You always start from the basics here and then go on to the most intricate things. At the beginning of the training camp we went over the fundamentals of offense and defense. Passing, catching, pivoting, sliding, moving without the ball – it was as if we were a junior team. That’s one of the major messages coach Popovich sends out to his players: techniques are much more important than tactics. You have to master the fundamentals and then you need the desire to compete every day, meaning that every day you have to come in ready to play.
It’s still quite early in the season, we’ve played around 20 games. And even on game days at our morning shootarounds we always go over defensive drills just to remind the players how important footwork and positioning are. There’s a lot of attention to small things, everybody’s really focused.
Coach Pop always speaks of the Spurs as a “program”
Coach Popovich always says he’s lucky that the Big 3 “has allowed him to coach the team”. What he means is that the three stars are ready to accept criticism, ready to be challenged, ready to lead the team during games and in practice.
Being around coach Pop is a constant learning experience. Here you learn to handle different situations. You see how he relates to players right after he criticizes or praises them, how he addresses the team during games, how and when he uses timeouts, which plays he calls, how he talks to the players at half-time, how he tries to squeeze the max out of his team during the last two minutes of every quarter – the list goes on and on.
What’s interesting is that he always pushes his coaching staff to argue with him. Sometimes he reminds me one of those Greek philosophers, the sophists, who tried to find the truth through arguments. He really encourages discussion and variety of opinions, seeing them as a means to improve as a unit.
Coach Pop always speaks of the Spurs as a “program”. Which was weird at first, because in the US the term is usually reserved for college teams. But what he implies is that there’s a strong togetherness of ownership, management and coaching staff here. And great communication as well.