Wasn’t hard to recognize the guy upstairs at UNC Asheville’s arena the first two days of Charlotte Bobcats training camp.
Round body, shaggy dark hair, mustache: Stan Van Gundy, former Orlando Magic coach and Steve Clifford mentor.
He’s been here watching out for Clifford in his first preseason as an NBA head coach, offering input without getting in the way.
“Outside of my family I don’t think there’s anyone more concerned about us doing well than Jeff (Van Gundy) and Stan. They give me advice about everything from leadership to the (head-coaching) position to basketball Xs and Os,” Clifford said Wednesday.
Never miss a local story.
Clifford worked for Jeff as a Houston Rockets assistant 2003 through 2007, then worked for Stan in Orlando another four seasons. After one season as the top assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, Clifford was hired in June as the Bobcats’ sixth head coach.
Stan Van Gundy came to Asheville to advise from up high.
“Just to observe and help me help the staff – watch and give his impressions of what we can do different or better,” Clifford said. “If you have someone you have a great trust in, who you know can help, it’s of huge benefit. … Maybe it’s a wrinkle in how you do something or the way to practice.”
Clifford’s only previous head-coaching experience was four seasons at Division II Adelphi. He is still working through what he should address, vs. what he can delegate to the four assistants and associate head coach Patrick Ewing.
“I have a good staff, so I focus more on things only the head coach can do,” Clifford said. “Yes, it’s a big, big difference.”
Note: While there’s clearly a sense of optimism about the upgraded roster, you won’t find Bobcats making predictions about the season. Gerald Henderson described that this way: “That’s not something we think about; we’re focused on the next month, having a successful camp.”
Or as Clifford said Monday, “I have no idea (how they’ll finish). Thinking that way is an entirely wrong mentality.”