Sloan underappreciated

By By Chris Kamrani

By Chris Kamrani

A 65-year-old grandfather with ancient knees, a hoarse voice and a knack for getting underneath the skin of so many. Sound like anyone you know? No, it’s not your grandpappy. It’s Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan.

Many call Sloan’s tactics “old school,” and I do not doubt them for a second. The banishing of headbands, disallowing cell phones on team bus rides and the way he handles the media is quite simple. It’s just Jerry’s way.

Watching Sloan hurl dry, gruff, yet humoristic retorts toward those that do not know how to handle one of his press conferences is quite a sight. Sloan knows how to put anyone in their place at anytime.

For those who appreciate basketball in its entirety and not what is has become today — an assortment of ridiculous flops, ticky-tacky foul calls and superstar treatment — Sloan is certainly “old school.” The reason: He does not condone any of that stuff. Period. He even made it a point to call out some of his own players last season (namely Andrei Kirilenko) for taking some pretty impervious flops. For this, Sloan has shown that he is the type of coach that deserves to be rewarded in this league.

Granted, ol’ Jer’ has obviously adjusted to the current life and times of NBA basketball, going up against teams that have player-coaches (Baron Davis, Steve Nash) who continue to sprint, shoot and flop. Many Jazz fans have been privileged to watch what real basketball looks like. The preaching of togetherness and working as one is Sloan’s motto, not just taking the open shot. He uses basketball as a tool to teach and show that if honed to a perfect exactness, things will work out. Sloan’s offense is simple: move the ball around until something opens up. Many teams, coaches and players do not have the desire or patience to play “Sloan” ball — i.e. Derek Harper, Rony Seikaly, etc.

Many would argue that the Jazz play “boring” basketball because they do not put it in the hands of one guy every trip down the floor or drive to the hoop hoping to dish off for a three. The new, fast-break style of basketball is at hand, but it has yet to win a championship.

Could it be that Sloan has found his niche in Utah because of his basketball conservatism? Highly doubtful. He has been one of the most successful coaches in NBA history for a reason. That reason is a system. Most teams hate playing the Jazz because they are just like their leader — a hard-nosed bunch of guys that work as a team. People ripped the Jazz for signing Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur (both 2006-2007 All-Stars) to contracts. Anyone remember the drafting of Deron Williams? No disrespect to Chris Paul, but it seems like Sloan does in fact know what he is doing. It took the Jazz three seasons to be rebuilt into a championship contender — in Utah nonetheless. You compare the Jazz with other teams around the league with more money and market value/appeal, and it seems that there is something underlying Jerry Sloan and his organization’s success. It’s simple really — hard-work, determination and precision. And if you can’t stand the heat, then you best get outta Jerry’s kitchen — and fast.

Sloan is a no-nonsense, cut to the teeth guy and always has been. The stories you hear about when he was a two-time All-Star, nicknamed “The Spider” and “The Original Bull,” are that of intensity and passion. Sloan was the ultimate talented scrapper. Sloan — a four-time member of the NBA All-Defensive first team — was a hero in Chicago because of his fiery style of play and all-out hustle. He also was the first Chicago Bull to ever have his jersey retired.

The most impressive forte of Sloan is his player development. Although many fans are upset with Sloan and his handling of rookies, the numbers beg to differ. The Jazz saw Deron Williams ride the bench his freshman year. Ditto for Ronnie Brewer. But now Jazz followers see the method behind Sloan’s madness. Basketball is a job to Sloan. It always has been. He treats it as it should be treated. Sloan is a master at finding the negatives in the positive. To Jerry, there is always room for improvement, no matter what.

The pride of McLeansboro, Illinois, never misses a beat. He stays true to who he is and what he stands for. If it’s a “horsesh**” call by the ref, then Jerry will hurl himself out of his chair and say it with an exclamation that is all his own.

Beneath all the rotted wood and rusty nails, Sloan is having fun — secretly, of course. After last season’s first-round, Game 7 victory in Houston, Sloan proceeded to say, “I couldn’t be happier for a group of guys that I’ve coached, I believe, since I’ve been here.” Sloan is as happy, excited and pissed off as ever to be winning again — his way.

Jazz fans — and the rest of the league — better start truly appreciating him, because the longest tenured coach in American professional sports is at the tail-end of his journey, and we might not see another NBA coach like him. Ever.

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Lennie Mahler