At some point this season, Larry Sanders and Tiny Gallon are going to look like they were put on this Earth to play basketball in the NBA. Times will be good. At some point this season, they’ll be glued to the bench, saddled with foul trouble or fighting inconsistency. Times will be bad. Even the very best rookie seasons are a mixed bag.
For assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, it’s keeping them on an even keel that’s most important.
“Rookie years are tough for these guys,” said Coach Sampson. “At some point they’re going to to go through a tough patch. With the kids here, it’s making sure they handle success and failure in the same vein. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Understand work is the answer to most of your problems.”
The development of young players is a crucial ingredient in the success of any NBA team and Milwaukee has one of the best in the business on their staff in Sampson. Within the last week, Gallon has Tweeted about the immediate positive influence Sampson has had on him. Gallon’s words should come as no surprise as repeatedly last season Brandon Jennings was quick to note how helpful Coach Sampson was in helping him develop. Keeping Jennings on an even keel during a roller coaster rookie season was a focus for Sampson.
“That was a big thing with Brandon,” he said. “The night he scored 55, I remember he was texting me later that night, and one of the things I said to him was don’t allow a 55-point night on a night in November define who you are. That’s part of being able to handle success.”
It should come as no surprise that Sampson has such a strong connection with younger players. A former big time college coach, Sampson had over 25 years of college coaching experience before joining the Bucks as an assistant two seasons ago. Even in the NBA, Sampson gets the most joy out of helping along the younger players.
“I have a great relationship with Andrew Bogut, Kurt Thomas and John Salmons,” Sampson said. “But those kids may need me more. When Kurt has a great game or bad game, I don’t worry about him. But Brandon, Tiny, Larry Sanders, those kind of guys, you take them under your wing a little bit.”
“I’m here for them,” Sampson said when asked what the key was to his working with younger players. “When you’re coaching a basketball team, you’re making sure that you’re available for anything. If they need to vent or need to go in at night and work or watch film, that’s the answer to our problem. If we go in at 11 at night, floor needs to be swept? I don’t mind sweeping the floor. I’ve swept floors before, that doesn’t bother me. It’s just helping them. As a coach, you get most of your satisfaction from just helping somebody along the way.”
As important as being a teacher to rookies and second year players is to Sampson, he’s also not above learning himself. Sampson has worked with big name coaches like Jud Heathcote, George Karl and Gregg Popovich, but hasn’t butted heads with Scott Skiles since arriving in Milwaukee.
“Scott is probably one of the most fair coaches I’ve been around in terms of he doesn’t show favoritism,” said Sampson. “He treats Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings the same he does Carlos Delfino or whoever. And I try and prepare the guys for that, how demanding he’ll be, but that if you do your work, you’ll be treated fairly.”
The success Sampson has had in preparing players may soon take him out of Milwaukee. Rumored to be a candidate for a number of open jobs over the past off-season, Sampson’s quick rise from tarnished college coach to NBA head coach could be complete by next summer. Milwaukee has already seen one Scott Skiles assistant (Lionel Hollins, Grizzlies head coach) get work elsewhere and could soon lose assistant general manager Jeff Weltman too. Such is the life of a franchise that’s suddenly gone from afterthought to front and center.
But for now, the Bucks still have Sampson, the do-it-all assistant who preaches hard work and sweeps floors when needed.