Recuperating Hammon "Pops" Over to Spurs Practice
It’s hard for anyone – even the most optimistic among us – to find a silver lining to a season-ending injury like Becky Hammon’s torn ACL last year. But while Hammon herself admits that it was tough to watch from the sidelines last season (and watch from afar this offseason) her injured knee was “actually a big blessing in disguise.” In fact, the Stars’ star guard said that when she wasn’t rehabbing her knee or working on her strength, she was sitting in on practice with the San Antonio Spurs, learning from none other than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“It’s actually been a very, very good situation for me,” she told WNBA.com at the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. “I’m just kind of a fly on the wall. I listen in on [the Spurs’] film sessions and go to their practices and just kind of see how [Coach Popovich] runs things. It’s just really interesting to me to see how he interacts and how he coaches the team.”
Coach Popovich doesn’t have the warmest of coaching styles. In fact, he is known for his brief and often rather terse halftime interviews as well as his straight-to-business “motivational” strategies. His fierce knowledge of the game shows as does his sometimes frustrating (or “boring”) rudimentary approach to the game. He’s all drive and no flash. Gregg Popovich is the Honda Civic of basketball coaches.
“They obviously have a couple championships,” says Hammon on the matter. “To me, [the Spurs] just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played with the movement and the cutting and stuff like that. So to me, I really love watching them play. Some people think they’re boring, I think that some of the cutting and the passing that they do is exceptional. And they win,” she added, “so you can’t argue with that.”
And from an insider’s perspective, it seems that not much is different. Hammon says it’s no surprise, really, that what you see is what you get with Popovich.
“Obviously there are things that go on behind the scenes in the huddle and stuff that the general person wouldn’t get to see,” she let on. “At that point I feel like a lot of times Pop’s prepared them -- they’re very well prepared, they know what’s gonna happen, and they know their system and they know what they’re supposed to do so. Then it’s just a matter of getting them to do it perfectly as a coach. So it’s not reinventing the wheel or anything, it’s basketball.”
Hammon and the Stars seems to share Coach Pop’s general “it’s not rocket science” attitude, which serves the team well. And that’s not the only shared quality between the two franchises. “We run a lot of the same stuff,” Hammon said. “Coach Hughes is right there watching a lot of the Spurs games.” (In fact, in a previous setting Coach Hughes had told me that he worked closely with Popovich and considered him to be one of the smartest coaches in basketball.)
But then of course even Gregg Popovich can’t be successful without healthy players. The Spurs “Big Three” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been plagued by on and off injuries in the recent weeks and racked up a few losses in the process.
And so Becky Hammon spent most of her time making sure her body – her knee in particular – was in good enough shape for the vigor required of a professional athlete.
“The first five months it’s just a lot of strength training,” Hammon said, “these little muscles that you never think to train and just getting confidence in the knee. I’ve been working on jumping and just trying to get those muscles to bounce back and respond. But now I’ll get back on the court and start getting comfortable in the brace and what that feels like getting hit. You know, you can be cleared to play but it doesn’t really mean that you’re ready to play – that’s two different things.”
And that goes for not only Becky Hammon but also the Stars’ Sophia Young, who was out last season with a knee injury as well.
For the Stars that meant a less-than-spectacular season, which ended with 22 losses and just 12 wins – the fourth worst in the league. But there’s a silver lining there as well: the Stars landed the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft.
Plus with Hammon and Young back on track, this season is already looking up.
“I feel really good about the players we have,” Hammon said, “the experience they got last year. Bring in the people that were injured, at least if we just stay healthy we’ll have as good a shot as anybody. It’s a tough league, it’s gotten better, it keeps getting better, so now it’s just a matter of getting the pieces to gel as quickly as possible and staying healthy."
And I think Popovich might agree.