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Interview with Thunderbirds coach Michael Cooper

Interview with Thunderbirds coach Michael Cooper
Jan 27, 2007, 07:44 pm
Michael Cooper is currently the head coach for the NBA’s Developmental League Albuquerque Thunderbirds, whom he coached to the NBDL championship last season. Prior to that Cooper was Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and, as a former Showtime Laker, won 5 NBA championships before becoming an assistant coach under Los Angeles Lakers head coach Del Harris. He was named Coach of the Year while coaching the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks to back-to-back championships before returning to the NBA as interim coach with the Denver Nuggets. Michael Cooper now utilizes his trademark defense and proven coaching style nightly while coaching in the NBDL. I spoke with Michael after a loss to the Anaheim Arsenal where nobody could contain a red hot Andre Owens.

Richard Walker: How does your experience coaching here in the NBDL compare to coaching the WNBA?

Michael Cooper: Obviously it’s different because men are more skilled and athletic than women. Women truly play the game below the rim so they have to use the fundamentals that the game requires. Women are a lot smarter than men, so you don’t have to tell them things over and over. Overall though, coaching is coaching, whether it’s men or women.

Richard Walker: When you were in the NBA you were known as a defensive presence do you try and instill that same kind of defensive-mindedness on the players in the NBDL?

Michael Cooper: It doesn’t look like it, but yeah, that’s what we talk about the whole time is defense. We’re not getting it yet, but this is reminiscent of last year, us flailing away early. We’ve still got a lot of games to play, so our defense will get better.

Richard Walker: Do you find the NBDL players are a little more eager to learn from you?

Michael Cooper: Nope. NBA Development League players are eager to get to the next level, and they think it’s going to be the offensive output that’ll get them there, but they don’t understand that they’re going in as twelfth, eleventh, and tenth players, so you have to be more of a team unit. The few the do go up are the ones that get it, but the ones that don’t get it will remain down here.

Richard Walker: Do you find there’s some instability issues with guys like [Cedric] Bozeman coming in and guys like [Marcus] Douthit going out? That it’s hard to coach because your team changes all the time.

Michael Cooper: Well, that’s the one thing, but that’s what this league is about. This league isn’t setup for players to be here 5, 10 years. This league is for people to come in, develop their skills (some quicker than others), and get a call-up and go up and stay. It’s kind of disruptive from a coaching standpoint, but it wouldn’t be as fun coaching if you had the same team all year.

Richard Walker: Is Dijon [Thompson] coming back?

Michael Cooper: There’s a good chance that he might be coming back, and we might be getting another player from last year’s team. We’ll be a different ballclub next week. It’s unfortunate we don’t get to play the Anaheim [Arsenal] again because it would be a very interesting game next time they saw us.

Richard Walker: What do you see as the future of the NBDL?

Michael Cooper: I see the future being like the L.A. team. All NBA teams getting their own [NBDL] team, drafting their players through the draft, and then developing them down here, as opposed to having affiliates and then you being able to pick from everyone. That’s the joy about this. You can watch players mature, become pretty good pros, and when they’re ready to go up they can go up and not miss a beat.

Richard Walker: Have you seen any players that you think have “it” and can take it to the next level?

Michael Cooper: On our team, or in the league in general?

Richard Walker: In the league in general.

Michael Cooper: There’s a few, but it depends on what NBA teams are looking for, what type of player. A lot of these guys can definitely play. You know, the NBA is not the last spot on Earth, a lot of these guys can make a good financial living overseas. This league is to develop players all around, international and at home. But guys got to get it. They got to get it quick. And if they don’t they’ll remain down here and disappear.

Richard Walker: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.

Michael Cooper: My pleasure.

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