Much like his two sons, Bill Van Gundy doesn't mince words when assessing talent on the basketball court.
The father of Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and ESPN color analyst Jeff Van Gundy has been in town since Monday visiting with University of Toledo men's basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk and attending the Rockets' practices.
Van Gundy, a retired high school and small college basketball coach of 40 years, and Kowalczyk developed a close bond when Kowalczyk was an assistant at New Hampshire and Van Gundy was the head coach at Genesee Community College in Batavia, N.Y., in the early 1990s.
The pair have stayed close through the years, and every season since Kowalczyk has been a head coach, starting at Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2002, he's invited Van Gundy out to spend a few days with him at his team's practices.
“He's here to evaluate me and evaluate our program and help me get better as a head coach,” Kowalczyk said Tuesday. “When you look at the Van Gundy family, I'll argue with anybody that it's pound-for-pound the best coaching basketball family in the history of the game.”
Van Gundy gave a pretty brutal, yet fair, review of the Rockets after watching practice Monday and Tuesday.
“Well, I'll be very honest,” Van Gundy said. “Right now, the talent level of the people eligible is not very good. I think on the perimeter they are much better than they are inside. The inside is definitely weak.
“But, I know this. They will be better. You can take my word on that.”
Van Gundy cited Kowalczyk's resurrection of the Wisconsin-Green Bay program as proof that he's the right man to lead Toledo back from the doldrums.
The Rockets are 11-53 over the last two seasons and experienced a school-record 19-game losing streak last season.
“He did the same thing, basically, at Wisconsin-Green Bay,” Van Gundy said. “In fact, it was worse in some respects. Because I can remember after the first practice I saw at Green Bay, I told him, ‘Tod, don't even think about trying to score. Get the ball across midcourt into the scoring area.'”
“That's a true statement,” Kowalczyk added. “I can remember him saying that.”
“There wasn't one ballhander in the whole group,” Van Gundy continued. “I've seen him at rock bottom. He's not a very patient guy, and I don't think most of your truly successful head coaches are. But there has to be some level of patience with it, because it's a process.”
Van Gundy added that the Rockets' limitations are more than just physical.
“I don't want to cast any aspersions on anyone, but when you've lost [so many games], there has to be somewhat of a losing culture that has developed,” he said. “[When that happens] players don't really believe in themselves or their teammates or their coaches or anyone else that they can win. That is the first thing that has to be changed here, and that is not an overnight process.”
Van Gundy laid out three steps for how a coach goes about changing the losing culture of a program.
“First, you have to sell belief that it is going to be better,” he said, “and that players can depend on the fact that they are going to be prepared to play as well as they can. That's not telling them that they're talented enough at this point to be a winner, but that they're going to play as well as they can so that when the talent level is there, you can win. And then you have to get back to fundamental basic skills.”
Van Gundy, who retired from Genesee Community College in 1999, said he enjoys the opportunity to visit with Kowalczyk and offer his evaluation each year.
“This is like a vacation for me,” said Van Gundy, who resides in the Orlando area with his wife of 50-plus years, Cindy. “I miss coaching all the time. I really do.”
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084.
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