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Coach Carril & the Kids

Thursday, January 21, 2010

By Nick Miller, Sacramento News & Review

"Three, four, five."

The Sacramento Kings' afternoon practice winds down and one by one players head for the showers. Assistant coach Pete Carril remains out on the floor, his khakis hopelessly wrinkled, throwing big men Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman chest-high passes, urging them to work on their jump shots. The 79-year-old Carril's mechanics remain forever sharp: thumbs down, knees bent, following through, consistent delivery. He's a perfectionist. And demanding; he rattles off each made basket.

"Six, seven. Eight!"

Carril moves the three Kings to a new spot and restarts the drill. When the hoops stop falling, he prods: "You can make it to five, eh?"
Across the gym, Kevin Martin yells that lunch is ready.

"We're working with the master here," Hawes hollers back.

Martin threatens that the pizza will disappear fast.

"They didn't tell Luke Skywalker to stop working with Yoda," Hawes shouts. Ribs as to whether Hawes is truly a Jedi ensue.

This year's Sacramento Kings -- "the kids," as Carril says -- are the ultimate NBA underdogs. No one expected them to do well. Israeli up-and-comer Omri Casspi is just 19. NBA Rookie of the Year candidate Tyreke Evans is 20. Brockman, Hawes and Thompson are all under 23. Carril, whom many affectionately refer to as "Coachie," jokes that they're so green, one player --no names -- didn't even know who Red Auerbach was.

The generation gap cuts both ways. Evans, who's forged a close bond with Carril, remembers first meeting the five-foot-six 79-year-old and thinking, "How does he know the game of basketball?"

Oh, but he knows. Thirteen Ivy League championships at Princeton University; 513 career wins; a spot in the Hall of Fame -- hoops are coach Carril's American Dream, and he's one of the last basketball emissaries, a true teacher in this iPhone, Xbox and Facebook world. As Kings head coach Paul Westphal says, this year's Kings are "the passion that gets him up in the morning."

Carril's motivation? To prove to both the kids and himself that with hard work and smarts, you can still live the American Dream. That David still can take down Goliath.

To read the rest of Nick Miller's piece on coaching legend Pete Carril, please click here.