So Frank, the youngest head coach in the NBA, who has been a clinician since he was in high school, took the time at the Nets' training facility in East Rutherford to go over some of the strategies that he might use during the course of the season, which begins this week when training camp opens.
I was thoroughly intrigued when I learned of the media clinic. After all, I grew up around the game. I played basketball since I was old enough to grasp the orange orb. If you grew up in Jersey City, especially the Greenville section, you had no choice but to love basketball.
My first memories of basketball came from when I watched the game religiously during the glory days of the New York Knicks, with Clyde, Willis, DeBusschere and Bradley, sneaking the little transistor radio under my pillow to hear Marv Albert call the games of my beloved Knickerbockers.
It was because of my love for the Knicks that I knew I wanted to become a sportswriter. I used to watch the Knick games and go upstairs to my room and create a newspaper article of the game, complete with headlines. The aspiring sportswriter from Kennedy Boulevard was all of 9 years old at the time.
I also was a huge local basketball fan, going to high school games to watch my grammar school gym teacher from St. Paul's, a guy named Bob Hurley, coach his first-ever St. Anthony team, featuring a ton of kids from my neighborhood like the Rochford brothers (Pat and Danny, who happened to be the brothers of my best friend, John) and the person I looked up to most other than my father, my childhood idol, Bob Kilduff.
I remember my Biddy basketball coach, the late Dick Branagan, taking me to see great players like Jackie Gilloon of Memorial fame or even Bill Willoughby, who went from Englewood High School straight to the NBA.
I remember paying my quarter to get on the Bergen Avenue bus, just to be able to sneak into the back of the Jersey City Armory to catch the "Run, Baby, Run" Peacocks of St. Peter's College with guys like Rich Rinaldi, Harry Laurie, Elnardo Webster and my favorite Peacock of all-time, current Emerson High School Principal Bob Fazio. My father had a friend who worked the back door at the Armory, so even after my father died in 1971, he let me get in to watch the Peacocks.
And over the years, I've watched thousands of basketball games, as a fan and now for the last 23 years as a sportswriter. In fact, in a professional light, I've covered more basketball games than any other sport, covering the NBA for several years for three different newspapers.
Not to mention, I also spent 11 years as a basketball coach, coaching at my grammar school alma mater, St. Paul's, coaching the Biddy basketball program for Jersey City Recreation and finally, as a girls' high school coach at the Academy of St. Aloysius and St. Aloysius High School.
So I really believed I knew a lot about the game. I grew up around a legend like Bob Hurley. I worked with such great basketball minds as Ted Fiore and Mike Granelli, when I was the SID at St. Peter's College. I played all the time, watched all the time, studied the game all the time. I figured I didn't need to learn much more about the game.
But I did want to find out what Frank was going to teach the members of the media at this clinic. I was beyond intrigued. I had to be there. However, I didn't think I would learn anything. After all, I figured I knew everything that needed to be known about basketball.
Sure enough, I was wrong. Way wrong.
Frank took the time to run a group of media members, especially former CBS-TV sports anchor Gary Apple (who now works for NBA TV), through a series of drills, also using his coaching staff as able bodied subjects.
Frank set up some game situations and showed what the Nets might do. I laughed to my colleagues that other NBA coaches might want to get copies of the videotape of the clinic in order to get a head start on what the Nets plan to run offensively this season.
"There's always a counter for every offensive action," Frank said, walking the media through a series of plays.
"When five guys are all on the same page, it tends to be easy. But there are breakdowns and you have to be ready. You need to have everyone on the same string. With our team, all five guys have to be involved." Frank then called for volunteers to help chip in with the visual aspects of the clinic.
"Where's Frank?" the coach asked for a video cameraman. "He's eating cookies? How can you play when you're eating cookies?"
One of the aspects of the NBA game that I never knew about was the area near the low post, an imaginary rectangle near the basket where players can use their hands and arms to get defensive positioning. However, outside that imaginary rectangle, use of the hands and arm bars is prohibited. Learn something new every day. And yes, I learned something. My attendance was definitely worthwhile.
Frank said that the media clinic was the brainchild of the team's PR director Gary Sussman, as part of an outreach program by the entire league.
"We constantly talk about offense in practice, but we actually work on defense," Frank said. "That's how you keep players happy."
Frank said that he liked being able to teach a few things to the guys who spend most of their time criticizing his every move.
"I think if I was able to go into your office and learn more about newspapers, I'd have a better appreciation of what you do," Frank said. "I think we're all in the public spotlight and we all have to serve a need to the public. I think something like this was just a matter of organizational focus. The mission of the entire franchise is to give access to our team, throughout the organization."
Frank said that he knew that the majority of sportswriters he has to deal with on a regular basis are not naïve when it comes to the sport.
"I truly believe that a lot of our media have a high level of understanding of the game," Frank said. "I know they understand a lot of the things we do. This was designed to help them a little more, to understand the level of commitment the players have to make. The players, the coaches, we all have to make decisions under duress. But there's a lot of teaching involved, and that's the part of the game that never grows old for me. There has to be a lot of teaching involved."
The Nets plan to be a contender for the Eastern Conference title once again this season, with a healthy Richard Jefferson joining All-Stars Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. Union City native Gordon Chiesa joins the Nets' coaching staff as an assistant.
"We're very excited about the makeup of this team," Frank said. "We were dissatisfied with the way our season ended last year (getting swept in the first round by Miami) and we had to make improvements, which I think we did. Everyone's excited."
As much as I was learning a little bit about the game from an NBA coach. I was generally excited. It was a great opportunity, not usually given in this crazy profession.
Now, if only Red Holtzman could have conducted similar clinics when I was a kid.