Wilkens still loves to teach

JOHN SHORT, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

There's a good chance that Lenny Wilkens is done with coaching -- but he said yesterday the door is not necessary closed for good.

In Edmonton as a big part of Basketball Alberta's Superweekend, the 69-year-old Hall of Fame hoopster admitted that the grind of coaching sometimes wears him down.

"I don't miss the travel and I don't miss training camp, but I love coaching in a close game, influencing who wins and who loses."

Obviously, he also loves the teaching.

He spent two sessions with coaches and players who listened attentively to his lessons and his life stories.

Wilkens, a slick and crafty lefthander who averaged 17 points per game and made seven all-star teams in his 17-year NBA career, used a pair of U.S Olympic losses to show his great pleasure at the international growth of the sport he loves.

In 1992, he was an assistant coach to Chuck Daly and in 1996 he was head coach. The Americans, with more individual talent than any other competing nation, missed the gold medal both times.

"In 1996, our players really wanted to show the world that this was our game," he said, noting that the game actually was invented by a Canadian. "But if you say you're the best, you'd better play like the best.

"Every nation has improved. Now, we (Americans) realize that."

Wilkens is impressed by the presence of guards Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd on the U.S. team headed to Beijing for the Olympics next year.

"They get the ball to the right people. The ball arrives when you can do something with it."

Wilkens, one of only three men in the NBA Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player, watched Canada a couple of times in an Olympic qualifying tournament at Las Vegas and came away impressed with the team's effort and attitude.

He also recognized head coach Leo Rautins's skills.

"It's good that he makes everybody accountable," said Wilkens.

"A coach has to do that. It's wise for a coach to be upbeat a lot of the time. It's easy to be critical - sometimes too easy."

In his most recent coaching gig, Wilkens led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever playoff berth but left shortly afterwards and makes no apology.

"We had six or seven injuries to good players (Antonio Davis, Vince Carter) and had to dress four CBA (minor league) guys a lot of the time.

"I've never been the kind of coach who makes excuses. There was pressure from some members of the media and I spoke with (one of the Raptors owners) and suggested we should part company."

They did, but Wilkens, who spent much of last season as a colour broadcaster on Fox telecasts, still believes Canadian basketball is headed in the right direction.

"You understand the game better now. That's important."


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