Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

There might not be anything more detrimental to a coach than being “tuned out” by his players. Once you lose the collective ear of your guys, that’s pretty much it. You can pack up and start talking about “spending more time with your family” or “taking on new challenges.” That’s just the way it is in pro sports, especially those with guaranteed contracts.

But for some reason, you don’t often hear about players “tuning in” a coach, but it does happen. It’s been happening the last three games for the Trail Blazers. With Nate McMillan back in Portland recovering from a ruptured Achilles, lead assistant Dean Demopoulos has been steering the ship through three Eastern Conference road games, with one more to go tonight in Milwaukee. Initially Demopoulos noted the players weren’t trained to hear his voice during games since most of the in-game instruction comes from McMillan.

“They’re trained a majority of the time through the repetition,” said Demopoulos. “They’re hearing Nate’s voice repetitively, many, many more times than they hear anybody else’s. That’s just natural.”

But as the road trip has gone on, the ears of the Portland bench have become more accustomed to hearing Demopoulos, though the repetition built up through hearing McMillan bark orders for the past five seasons can’t be duplicated in three games.

“I think they’re getting more used to it,” said Demopoulos, “but I don’t think they’ll ever be used to it entirely because it’s not going to be enough time.

“Life takes time. To get better at something takes time. That’s what experience is because of the repetition. Repetition is one of the major foundations of learning, maybe the most important. It’s not as unfamiliar as it was.”

Which is great, but it won’t go much farther than that. McMillan is expected to return to his head coaching duties when the team gets back to Portland early Sunday morning, with Demopoulos returning to his lead assistant duties, which is the way he’d prefer it.

Said Demopoulos: “That’s fine with me.”

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