Tag Archives: Kelvin Sampson

Skiles’ Bucks staff set – Lionel Hollins a coaching coups

Lionel HollinsWith the good fortune he’s had in putting together an impressive staff of assistants, Scott Skiles may want to head to the casino. Better yet, Skiles should head for New Jersey May 20 to represent the Bucks in the NBA draft lottery.  

Not only did Skiles hire all four of his top choices in less than two weeks, he was lucky that two of them — Kelvin Sampson and Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins – were available at all. (Consider this one likely reason Skiles has moved so quickly to hire them.)

Tom Enlund yesterday confirmed that, no, Skiles’ assistant search hadn’t hit any snags, reporting at JSOnline that Jim Boylan, Sampson, Hollins and Joe Wolf are hired. The Bucks are waiting only for the signatures on the contracts. Add to those four Bill Peterson, guru to Ramon Sessions, retained from Larry Krystkowiak’s crew, and the Bucks have their new coaching staff.

Boylan was Skiles right hand man in Chicago and took over when Skiles was let go last December. Boylan was canned by the Bulls when the season ended (Bulls GM John Paxson wants a marquee coaching name); it was no surprise that he followed Skiles to Milwaukee.

Wolf has been earning attention as a winning coach in the NBA Development League with the Colorado 14ers (what’s a 14er?) and Skiles simply hired Wolf before someone else did. For what it’s worth, Wolf comes highly recommended by Denver’s George Karl.

Kelvin SampsonI wrote about last week on the BBJ. Were it not for Sampson’s heavily scrutinized … err, what should his time at Indiana be labelled? Situation, bad career move? — he wouldn’t be in the market for a job, much less a jump to the pros. Stroke of luck #1 for Skiles, who was quick to offer Sampson a job, which Sampson accepted before the end of Skiles’ first week. Sampson’s been one of the best coaches in the college ranks for about 15 years, and has experience with pro players coaching under George Karl in the 2002 World Championships. After he lost the Indiana job, Sampson joined George Popovich’s Spurs bench in San Antonio as a consultant, which sheds some light on how highly regarded Sampson is in coaching circles. A great hire by Skiles.

As lucky as Skiles was that Sampson was in the market, he was even luckier that Lionel Hollins, a 20-year NBA coaching veteran, was ready for a change. Through the 2007-08 season, Hollins had been a Grizzlies coach for every game of the franchise’s history, dating back to 1995 when the Grizz were in Vancouver and Bucks great Brian Winters was the team’s inaugural head coach. More than any other figure but the mascot, Hollins is Mr. Grizzlie, twice filling in as head coach as other coaches came and went, always retaining his job — I wonder why Marc Iavaroni and not Hollins is now the head coach in Memphis now?

Prior to going to work for Winters and the Grizz,  Hollins was an assistant in Phoenix for seven years (think KJ and Sir Charles), and coached at Arizona State, his alma mater, when his playing days ended in 1985. As a player, Hollins was the point guard on the Bill Walton 1977championship Trailblazers, before moving on to Dr. J’s Sixer teams, where he played shooting guard to Mo Cheeks’ point.

Into the recesses of time … Yes, Hollins was on those Philly teams that broke Bucks fans’ hearts in the 1981 and 1982 playoffs. Hollins and Winters guarded each other in those playoff matchups, which makes then-Grizzlie GM Stu Jackson and head coach Winters’ hiring of Hollins to help coach the expansion Grizzlies interesting, oddly appropriate, even poetic. Da#!! those guys were good, and they could shoot. Those were the last 60-win Bucks teams, but they couldn’t beat Philly in the playoffs …

Back to the present: In most any other offseason, like so many before, Hollins would not be looking to change jobs. Stroke of luck #2 for Skiles, who again acted quickly in offering Hollins a position. Perfect timing.

Why was this year different? For a good chunk of the Grizzlies season, Marc Iavaroni (another guy on those Sixers team the Bucks couldn’t beat in the early 1980’s), the coach/GM in Memphis was on the hot seat. First, Iavaroni stepped down from his GM duties, and rumors were flying that the team owner was dancing with Larry Brown, and that Brown was interested in becoming the new coach/GM. Look what’s happened in the last three weeks:

Week #1 – Larry Krystkowiak is fired in Milwaukee, Skiles is hired to replace him four days later, and is somehow aware that Hollins might be available. Skiles immediately offers Hollins a job.

Week #2 – Larry Brown is hired by Michael Jordan to coach the Charlotte Hornets, removing him from the Grizz’s picture (Memphis owner Michael Heisley denies Brown was ever in the picture, but I wouldn’t believe him). By week’s end, Iavaroni had kept his job as Grizzlies coach after a tense meeting with Heisley. With Skiles’ job offer to Hollins pending, there’s still no word on whether Hollins has accepted (Boylan and Sampson were already on board). 

Week #3 – Still no word on Hollins (or Wolf) until Enlund’s story yesterday, leading to speculation (on my part at least) that maybe Hollins had decided to stay in Memphis. Lucky for the Bucks, Skiles and Bucks fans, this was not the case. I’m speculating that if Skiles had wasted any time in offering Hollins a job, Hollins would still be an assistant in Memphis, working with Iavaroni to rebuild after the Pau Gasol trade. 

Beyond the overall experience that Hollins’ four decades in the NBA brings, the important thing about Hollins for the Bucks is the type of player he coached with the Grizzlies. Because the Grizz are a young franchise, much of Hollins work has been with lottery-drafted young players. The Grizzlies coaches have never had an established, veteran star, working instead to compete by developing and establishing their own: Sharif Abdur-Rahim, Gasol, Mike Miller, and now Rudy Gay. Hollins also helped develop Mike Bibby into a quality, playoffs point guard, before the Grizz shipped him to Sacremento for Jason Williams in 2001 (a point guard swap that never made any sense to me, and didn’t really improve either team all that much).

Here’s that Grizzlies basketball-reference.com link again. Memphis was a 50-win team not so long ago.

Considering where the Bucks find themselves — with a rookie point guard and young talent like Yi, Bogut and, yes, Charlie Villanueva too, and looking to commit the team focus toward developing these players — How is Lionel Hollins not the perfect assistant coach for the Bucks?  Of the five assistants, Hollins is Skiles’ coups de grace.

What I haven’t been able to figure out is what Skiles’ connection to Hollins is? They haven’t worked together before (Hollins preceded Skiles in Phoenix in the 1990’s). Does there have to be a connection? I would think so, considering that Hollins is leaving a franchise where he worked for 13 years.

Does anybody have the goods on Skiles-Hollins? The comment part of this blog does, in fact, work.

Skiles’ assistant hires point to Bucks rebuilding

One of the many big criticisms of the Bucks has been that the organization couldn’t decide whether to rebuild or try to win now, so they tried to do both. The results were mediocre, leading to poor, finally colliding this season with terrible — and Michael Redd’s delusion that he is Kobe, Charlie Villanueva’s insistence that he is a star, and Mo Williams’ attitude that, because he can routinely get himself better shots than the two aforementioned dummies, he might as well shoot it. Fighting through all of this was the development of Andrew Bogut, Yi Jianlian and, once the season was over, Ramon Sessions.

Thankfully, those days appear to be over in Milwaukee. GM John Hammond has hired a coach, Scott Skiles, who proved he can win with young players in Chicago. Now the coach is hiring his staff. Thus far, it is a group wired to develop its own NBA stars, not coach somebody else’s.

Nothing’s official yet, but as of this week, Jim Boylan and Kelvin Sampson are on board as Skiles’ assistants. Skiles announced last week that  Bill Peterson, Larry Krystkowiak’s player development coach who worked extensively with rookie Ramon Sessions, will stay on.

No word yet on Skiles other top choices for assistants, Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins and Kohler’s own Joe Wolf, NBA D-League coach and a Buck for a season in the 1990’s. Skiles said his staff would be the typical three assistants on the bench with a development coach behind them.

With Peterson in the development job, it could mean that either Wolf or Hollins is out of the picture, or both. In the last few days, the situation in Memphis changed and Hollins still has his job, now that head coach Marc Iavaroni has kept his. (Memphis had been in the Larry Brown sweepstakes, and when Brown went to the Charlotte Bobcats, the rebuilding Grizz settled on Iavaroni.)

Skiles also said that he expected to have his coaches hired by this week, so the new staff could be finalized any day now.

What do Skiles top choices say about the direction the team is heading? The bent is clearly toward development of younger players (Peterson, Sampson and Wolf) and extreme dedication to ball movement and smart guard play (Skiles, Hollins and Boylan played the point; ball movement was religion for Skiles’ Baby Bulls). It’s about time.

Jim Boylan, who took over from Skiles in Chicago this season and was let go two weeks ago, is simply the obvious choice to be Skiles’ lead assistant in Milwaukee. Boylan was Skiles’ lead in Chicago and on Skiles’ staff in Phoenix, and as a bonus for Marquette alums and 40-plus fans, Boylan was Al McGuire’s starting point guard on the 1977 NCAA championship team — and he’s still Al’s point guard, teaching players to “live in the moment.”  The Zen approach should go over well with Yi, whose personal coach, Jarinn Akana, was not retained by Skiles.

Bill Peterson was the player development coach in Dallas (1998-2000), the early years of Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash. That worked out well, to say the least. Last season, Peterson won rave reviews from Krystkowiak and was credited with the late season splash Ramon Sessions made at the point. Skiles’ decision to retain Peterson is great news for Sessions, whom the Bucks have some high hopes for (more on that in a separate post). Retaining Peterson should be taken as a sign that not only will Sessions will be a Buck next season, he is, right now, the starting point guard. Sorry Mo, you’ve lost the job.

With all that has been said and written about what happened at Kelvin Sampson’s previous job, Sampson has been one of the best coaches in the college game for more than a decade. In the 2008 NBA draft, Sampson’s shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is slated as a top 10 draft pick – on many boards the player the Bucks would take with the 7th pick if that holds; Sampson’s big forward DJ White, is projected going early in the second round. Both players jumped into the draft after Sampson lost his job, something of a players’ endorsement. There’s no question Sampson brings to the Bucks coaching skills geared toward young, developing players. And Sampson’s not the only college coach Skiles was interested in hiring – ESPN reported that Skiles was also looking at New Mexico assistant Craig Neal.

The book on Joe Wolf, head coach and GM of the NBA D-League Colorado 14ers the last two years, is that he is set to get a shot as an assistant in the NBA soon, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Wolf’s been winning in the D-League, and his 14ers are led by one of the D-League’s best players, Elton Brown. But winning isn’t the only thing in the D-League, where the “D” in development is capitalized. By all accounts, Wolf’s doing a great job, and one former player, Nuggets guard Von Wafer, raves that Wolf saved his career. Wolf as a coach has been flying under George Karl’s wing, and would probably do well to get broader experience. Any way one looks at Wolf, his appearance as one of Skiles’ top candidates is a nod to player development.

Lionel Hollins is Mr. Grizzlie. He’s been coaching on the Memphis bench since the franchise began in Vancouver (with Bucks great Brian Winters as its first head coach), and twice held the head coaching reins for the Griz. Prior to the Grizzlies, Hollins was an assistant in Phoenix for seven years, including the Suns’ Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley years. Hiring a coach with the experience of Hollins would have been a great coups for Skiles, but probably depended on whether or not Iavaroni and the Memphis staff would be retained.

With every player on the Bucks roster with the exception of Bogut and Yi on the trading block, the coaching selections do offer some insight into how the Bucks are likely looking at their team.

  • The Peterson hire means the world for Sessions; it’s also no good for Mo Williams or Michael Redd (who quit down the stretch). Because Peterson was only in his first year under Krystkowiak, he’s not wed to players like Mo, Simmons or Redd.


  • Sampson’s hiring is about as pro youth as Skiles could get. Sampson does have experience dealing with NBA stars, as a coach under George Karl in the 2002 World Championships, but it’s not his skill set. The Bucks have a good draft pick this year, along with a developing Yi (who could benefit from NCAA coaching-style), Sessions and Bogut. Expect the Bucks to get younger to take advantage of Sampson’s presence.
  • No assistant choice of Skiles shouts – “This is good for Michael Redd; this coach will understand where Redd is coming from.” That coach is just not there, unless it can be found in Boylan’s ability to communicate with players as Skiles’ right hand man. The focus of the team is shifting overtly toward developing players, not catering to second/third tier “stars.” If a decent deal for Redd comes along this summer, especially if there are young players or draft picks involved, expect GM Hammond to jump at it.
  • Expect the Bucks to get younger, rather than look for veteran help or stars in trades. Again, as a group, Skiles’ coaching choices are wired to develop their own stars rather than coach somebody else’s. Next year will likely be a year for development and improvement, not a year to push for the playoffs.
  • This has become a long post; time to wrap it up.

Skiles set to hire Sampson today

Those anonymous sources of ESPN’s have struck again. As of 1:08 Central time Friday, ESPN reports that Kelvin Sampson will get his next job after the Indiana University mess on Scott Skiles’ Bucks staff.

Apparently, Bucks owner Herb Kohl’s well-deserved reputation for making image-conscious personel decisions does not extend to the new regime of GM John Hammond. In Milwaukee, the basketball people are finally making the basketball decisions. Does that mean Sampson is a good hire?  As I wrote in Friday AM’s Bob Boozer Jinx post, I think so.

Sampson’s resume — even the one still posted on the official Indiana Basketball site — is impressive and extends far beyond his stints at the universities of Indiana and Oklahoma.  He’s been one of the more active US coaches working in international ball, including the assistant coaching job (under George Karl) with the 2002 World Championship team. In 2005-06 he coached in the 8-team Army tournament “Operation Hardwood – Hoops with the Troops” program along with Tom Izzo and others.

Sampson’s reputation and coaching career will outlive the Indiana “violations” scandal, which can be interpreted as Part 2 of the NCAA’s crackdown on Oklahoma. In other words, what happened at Indiana has more to do with Indiana telling the NCAA “we are not Oklahoma” than it does with Sampson. The most serious charge against Sampson — dishonesty — the ousted coach is still fighting.

And for Sampson, the Bucks job comes with perks — he’ll be allowed to use the phones.

What do other Bucks fans think?  Good hire or bad move? 

Who’s afraid of Kelvin Sampson?

Bucks coach Scott Skiles confirmed this week that he is set to hire Jim Boylan, who was his top assistant in Chicago, and is pursuing Kelvin Sampson, Lionel Hollins and Joe Wolf as his three other assistants.

What’s that, you say? KELVIN SAMPSON – the coach ousted only two months ago from Indiana University? Kelvin Sampson is a terrible person. A cheater. A bad man. A disgraced coach who brushed up against the “moral turpitude” clauses at Basketball U and violated the rules of the honorable NCAA.

Ahhh, the “moral turpitude” of Bobby Knight University and its basketball program may forever be a work in progress. Turpitude, to quote my dictionary, equates to “baseness, vileness, depravity, or any action showing depravity.” The idea of turpitude was, in fact, raised by a lawyer in Indiana trying to figure out how the university could avoid contract liability to Sampson in the event they fired him. They did fire him, of course, and paid him off handsomely, so one can conclude that IU didn’t stand on its “moral turpitude” in dealing with Sampson.

But even that this “moral turpitude” clause was mentioned leads me to believe there are those at Indiana University who are far too sensitive about their coaches in the shadow of Bobby Knight, whose actions as a coach can only be described as inhumane. Baseness indeed. Hypocrites.

And as inviolate as the rules of the NCAA can be at times — is there really any pretense left about moral upright-ness? Pity the hundreds of millions made at the Big Dance and the profits of the Big Ten Network. Nevermind the never-ending rule-bending by coaches and arbitrary enforcement.

So what did Sampson do? It’s complicated, but ESPN ran a comprehensive story about Sampson’s violations back in February.  ESPN.com recapped the NCAA/Indiana investagations more recently in the story about Skiles’ intent to hire Sampson. It’s a bit shorter but packs a good punch.

In a nutshell, Sampson was found to have exceeded phone call limits and contact to recruits 2000-04 at Oklahoma, which led Indiana to place him on probation during his first year as Indiana coach 2006-07. The NCAA could not sanction Indiana for things Sampson did at Oklahoma, but Indiana took to it with gusto. The school shackled Sampson’s telephone usage, banned him from recruiting visits for a year and ratcheted up monitoring of Sampson’s staff. 

Although Sampson was not allowed to make calls,  text messaging was OK. He was in on ten speaker phone conference calls that were also deemed violations. Yeah, it sounds crazy, and it also sounds like Sampson and staff tested to the letter the limits of its probation, operating with a growing bunker mentality.

In October, the school announced that Sampson had violated his probation, having made about a hundred recruiting calls, and the NCAA launched a joint investigation with Indiana investigators this season, finding more violations. How many investigators were working this case?

In the end, Sampson stood accused of failing to create an atmosphere of compliance in running his staff (who also exceeded phone limits) and of the more serious charge of misleading Indiana and NCAA investigators, a charge he denies and has said he will fight.

Indiana’s position has been that the phone usage is “secondary” to the bigger issue of whether Sampson misled NCAA investigators. Of the “secondary” violations, one in particular stands out for me:

A recruit had signed on for a basketball camp at IU’s Assembly Hall, and Sampson had an “impermissablel contact” with him. (It was Indiana and Sampson’s camp). An assistant, Jeff Meyer, also had “impermissable contact” and stands accused of giving the kid a t-shirt and a gym bag, which are the kinds of things players receive when they attend a baskeptball camp. These camps are rarely free. 

I used to get t-shirts at the camps I went to. I got a pair of Pro Keds at a blue chip camp in Kentucky. I hope that was OK in the eyes of the NCAA.

T-shirts, gym bags, phone calls. Indiana reporting itself. It sounds to me as though there were Indiana boosters who never wanted Sampson in the first place, and more or less made sure he was put in a noose when the NCAA announced the Oklahoma sanctions — two months after he took the Indiana job. 

The athletic department at morally turpitudenous Bobby Knight University is apparently unaware that there are federal laws against creating this sort of work environment.

Up until this year, however, folks in Indiana thought quite highly of Kelvin Sampson. Check out this glowing coach Sampson bio still up on the university website. (It’s the same as the one linked above with KELVIN SAMPSON-all caps.)

In the NBA, a coach can use the phone all he wants. If Sampson’s boy Eric Gordon is drafted by another team, he and Gordon can remain friends and no one will send a team of investigators to monitor their conversations. NBA coaches also get to sit in on conference calls but don’t have to worry much about shoes and gym bags – the shoe and bag companies are all over it.

Looking at Sampson’s bio, he would be a great hire for Skiles if the Bucks can seal the deal. Let’s hope Herb Kohl accepts his new assistant coach. I doubt the senator will lose any votes over it. 


Most impressive about Kelvin Sampson is his USA basketball experience, which is extensive. He’s got plenty of experience working with pro players, so the transition from college to pro personalities shouldn’t be much of a problem for Sampson. Here’s some of the bio:

“He was the head coach of the 2004 USA Basketball World Championship for Young Men qualifying team that posted a 5-0 record and earned a gold medal in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That 2004 squad featured former Hoosier standout Bracey Wright and captured the United States’ first gold medal in the event since 1996. Sampson, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and former Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery were assistant coaches to George Karl on the 2002 USA Men’s World Championship team in Indianapolis. That squad included current NBA stars Paul Pierce, Michael Finley, Elton Brand and Baron Davis.

“In the summer of 1995, Sampson served as head coach of the USA Men’s Junior World Championship team that played in Larissa and Athens, Greece. That team featured current NBA players Vince Carter and Stephon Marbury. Sampson was an assistant coach to George Raveling on the 1994 USA Goodwill Games team that competed in St. Petersburg, Russia. Damon Stoudemire, Shawn Respert, Finley and Tim Duncan led that club to the bronze medal. Sampson began his USA Basketball tenure as the head coach of the 1993 Olympic Festival West team in San Antonio, Texas. Jerod Haase, Charles O’Bannon and Jerald Honeycutt helped that club to the silver medal.”