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Bounce to his step (cont.)

Posted: Friday December 1, 2006 12:23AM; Updated: Friday December 1, 2006 3:21PM
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In his own words: Blazers coach Nate McMillan

Nate McMillan has had to be patient in coaching a young Trail Blazers team.
Nate McMillan has had to be patient in coaching a young Trail Blazers team.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Though he is beginning his seventh season in charge of an NBA team, the 42-year-old still considers himself a young coach. As recently as 1998 he was the longtime Seattle point guard who was the franchise leader in assists and steals. Two years later he was elevated from assistant to head coach of the Sonics, earning a 212-183 (.537) record before deciding last season to move three hours south to Portland, where he made a frustrating 21-61 debut while trying to resurrect the Blazers. McMillan also served as an assistant to USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski at the FIBA World Championships in Japan last summer.

In this frank interview, McMillan talks about his coaching heroes, racism and teaching his young team to overcome the sordid Jail Blazers image of years past.

• On relating to young NBA players:

"When I was young, the veterans didn't accept some of the things that go on now. But I don't feel that far removed from this generation of players. I listen to some of the music that they hear, and I watch some of the movies that they watch. Some of our players are coming from single-family homes; I came from a single-family home. You are the breadwinner in your family; I was that in mine. You have issues with your family; I have issues with mine. I've really focused on spending more time with the guys individually and not just when they have issues. With [Jarrett] Jack and Zach [Randolph], we meet once a week -- what are you thinking about the team, what do you think about the plays -- just to stay in contact with them.''

On the vulnerability of even the best NBA coaches:

"Preparation is the key to most people being successful. The night before a game, I usually can't get out of my hotel because it's game night. We're in a profession where you're up against the best, and how you prepare for that is a huge key.

"I've got a great deal of respect for guys like [Gregg] Popovich -- those guys have been coaching for 20 years. I'm looking at coach [Larry] Brown last year, and me and him are right down here with similar records. He's a hell of a coach, a great coach, how did that happen? And look at the players he had. So I fed off that -- he has that team, and he's a Hall of Fame coach, but we had the two worst records in the league. For me it meant keep working, keep working, keep working.''

On butting heads with Randolph last year:

"He didn't know me. I was a guy who was replacing coach [Maurice] Cheeks, who I think he had a great deal of respect for. And here I was -- he called me 'Sarge' -- coming in to change everything.

"His best interests are mine both on and off the floor, because it became somewhat of a racist thing to me. These comments that were made about Portland, it was mainly about young black men. It was 'Jail Blazers,' 'thugs,' and most of the guys on the team were young black men. So it was about working with our young black men to prove and show that they're better than that. Basically the country was talking about a group of young black men and not giving them respect. And I knew that they needed to earn it and they could; they needed to be aware of where they were and what they needed to do.''

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