The Wolves’ Gym Rat

Photo from oregonlive.com

As sixteen NBA teams do battle in the first round of the playoffs, the Timberwolves begin their offseason.  Kahn had his presser (which was tragically-devoid of Kahnisms), we looked back on the season that was, and each player now departs for his offseason home.  Over the next few months, Wolves fans will talk draft and free agency, and even spend some quality time with the trade machine. The team faces upcoming roster turnover for the umpteenth consecutive year that could range from cutting bait with their expirings (Miller/Webster/Beasley/Randolph) to more drastic changes like a Derrick Williams trade–which would probably involve contract fillers like Ridnour or Barea– for a high-quality but expensive wing.

No matter which course Kahn & co take, there will certainly be some incumbent Wolves on next year’s roster.  Ricky and Love aren’t going anywhere. Barring an unforeseen trade, Pekovic will be back, and there’s no guarantees that the team will be able to give away Wes Johnson who remains under contract.  And so with returning personnel comes the task of DEVELOPING that personnel.  And that task belongs primarily to one Billy Bayno. 

After Kahn signed Ricky Rubio, drafted Derrick Williams, and inexplicably lured Rick Adelman out of retirement, his hiring of Bill Bayno was understandably below the radar.  We got to know Bayno a bit more after his regular halftime interviews with the FSN North crew.  If you attend games and check out shootaround, you’d see Bayno out there in sweats with pads on his arms, working out the guys who wouldn’t see much action that night.  His presence was being felt, but only as the typical assistant coach.  Only Bayno isn’t a typical assistant coach.  Not if you’ve read some of the stories about him.  I encourage you to click on those links and read about Bayno more fully, but here are some interesting notes from his career in coaching.

Mentors

Following an All-American (Division II) college career and NBA tryouts, Bayno dove headfirst into coaching.  He was a grad assistant for P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall.  He was an assistant at Kansas for Larry Brown (where he coached and formed a lasting bond with Kevin Pritchard of Blazers front office fame).  He was an assistant for COACH CAL at UMass (where Bayno played before transferring out).  Finally, after multiple head coaching stints, Bayno worked as an assistant for Nate McMillan and the Portland Trailblazers.  Carlesimo, Brown, Cal and McMillan is about as impressive a list of former bosses as an assistant can have.  By now, he can add future Hall of Famer Rick Adelman to that list.

Working with the Blazers

Bayno made clear that he left Portland for Minnesota only because of the job security that a four-year contract provided.  He was greatly appreciated by the Blazers.  In particular, LaMarcus Aldridge was upset to hear that his favorite coach was leaving.  From a November 1, 2011, Oregonian article:

Bayno had been a driving force behind the development of Aldridge’s game over the years. Not only did they work together behind the scenes throughout Aldridge’s first five seasons in the NBA, the two worked together each summer to mold Aldridge into the star he became last season.

When Aldridge heard Bayno was leaving to join Rick Adelman’s staff with the Minnesota Timberwolves — after the Blazers declined to offer a multiyear contract — Aldridge was shocked.

“The Blazers know what they’re doing and it’s a move they decided they had to make,” Aldridge said. “But I wasn’t happy about it. I thought that he was a really good guy on the staff. I thought he really helped players get better. I definitely had a close relationship with him, work-wise, and I will miss him.”

Going back in time one more year to 2010, Bayno oozed an enthusiasm for hoops in this interview, discussing his summertime work with Greg Oden and LMA:

[Aldridge]‘s working hard; I’m really excited. Last summer, I spent the majority of the time with Greg, and LA called me a couple of weeks ago and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Can you come to Dallas?’ And immediately I got on a plane … he’s been working. I can’t say enough good things about the effort that he’s putting in. The majority of work we’re doing is adding to his game, working on his drive game. Teams crowd him so much; I think teams are going to crowd him and push him less (this year), and just really working on creating contact, using his body. I call it inside shoulder-outside hand, where every time he’s looking to make a move to the basket he should be looking to hit the defense first with his inside shoulder, get to the rim and finish with his outside hand. He’s working. He’s wearing me out to be quite honest with you. He hired a personal trainer, a guy that works with a couple of the (Dallas) Cowboys. He’s really gotten stronger; and he’s done that on his own. I think he’s probably up to 260, 262 (pounds). Considerably stronger and bigger, but hasn’t lost any quickness. One of the things we’ve been working on is improving his first step. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s taking it; I’m literally beating him up. He’s probably doing 100 possessions a day once we get through, where I’m just forcing him baseline, forcing him middle, forcing him to his left hand, and just really cracking him with the pads and working on getting and-ones, and just continuing to be good at creating that contact and finishing with contact.

To receive any amount of credit for the development of Aldridge and the Blazers between 2006 and 2011 is a big feather in the cap of an assistant coach.  And player development wasn’t his sole responsibility in Portland.  For his last seasons there, he was sitting next to McMillan on the bench, actively involved in game coaching.  McMillan was sad to see him go, but understood the reason for leaving for a better opportunity.

A Sometimes-Unhealthy Obsession

Bayno is obsessed with coaching basketball.  That word gets used loosely and often in hyperbole, but if you’ve read even a little bit about Bayno you know that it applies.  When he served as head coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, his obsession mixed with alcohol in ways that probably led to his demise. Bayno had this to say about it, in the nba.com article linked above:

“I was a young coach at Vegas, at just 32. I was under extreme pressure, I was making a lot of money, and my alcoholism got the best of me. It was just the combination of Vegas, money, and stress.” Like most people battling this disease, Bayno doesn’t hesitate when he’s asked when he had his last drink. “December 23rd, 1999,” he proudly says.

Even without alcohol fueling his obsessive fires, Bayno battled mental health struggles tied to his hoops addiction.  After working with the Blazers player development staff, he thought he’d give head coaching another try, this time at Loyola Marymount University.  But his stint there was very short — only three games — before he resigned, citing health problems.  The Columbian article linked above included the following about his brief tenure at Loyola:

And as the recruits piled in, and as the enthusiasm escalated, and as the season-opener closed to within a few weeks, the brooding Bayno couldn’t help but mention to his sister Julie Hoppe …. “I’m starting to feel a little anxious.”

Hoppe assured him that this was normal; that he’d been out of the college game for a while and that jitters were inevitable. A few weeks later, however, Hoppe wasn’t giving her brother pep talks — she was just trying to get him to eat.

Her efforts were rarely successful. The cauldron was steaming now. Bayno was spending up to eight hours a night preparing two-hour practice plans, tinkering with minutiae until it was 6 a.m. and he was due in the office at 8.

The only thing consistently finding its way down his throat was his anti-anxiety medication, Bayno sometimes swallowing eight times the recommended dosage.

He hid the madness from his players, though. Did the mental equivalent of sucking in his gut and continued to mold. But his assistants knew something was wrong. Husak knew something was wrong. This zombie-like creature was anything but the man they’d all grown to admire.

“Coach was struggling. I could see it, I could feel it, I could smell it,” said current LMU head coach Max Good, who was Bayno’s assistant at the time. “Obviously he was in turmoil. The job was really weighing on him and it pained me to see him troubled like that because I like and respect him so much.”

A few days after that USC scrimmage, Bayno took a leave of absence and did little but sleep and receive therapy for the next few weeks. He’d still check the scores whenever the Lions played, and admittedly felt pangs of guilt for disappointing those who’d invested in him.

Nevertheless, after a series of discussions with his doctors, Bayno resigned from Loyola for the sake of his health — meeting with his assistants but never his players.

He’s not so proud of that last part.

“The only thing I regret is not sitting down with my players and explaining it to them. They had no idea what I was going through and they thought I abandoned them. But at the time, I was trying to get healthy, and just being around them put me in a bad place,” Bayno said. “I felt like I had let them down. But if I would have just had them all over at my house and said ‘Here’s the deal — you have no idea what I’m going through. You only see me during the day. I fake it. It’s just not healthy. I can’t do it. I took the job when I really shouldn’t have’… I think, if anything, I just cared too much.”

When Bayno is a player-developing assistant coach, he can only work when players are on the floor.  His own obsession is limited by the obsessions–or lack thereof–of his pupils.  When he’s the head coach with full responsibility and accountability for the team, he can’t help himself.  He’ll spend 22 hours a day fretting over the finest details of the next practice or gameplan.  Bayno has come to grips with the fact that he’s an assistant coach, and he now enjoys thriving in that role.  A four-year contract (yes, even one signed by David Kahn) is a testament to the reputation he’s built as one of the best in the business.

What next?

The bummer about hiring Bayno THIS year was that there was a compressed schedule and no player-coach contact during the offseason.  Bayno’s specialty is individual player development and he wasn’t able to do any of that before the truncated training camp and season.  His skills will be put to better use in the coming months.  In Jon Krawczynski’s recent feature on Derrick Williams, he mentions that D-Thrill and Malcolm Lee will both work with Bayno this summer in Los Angeles.  Perhaps K-Love will join them for some sessions.  Assuming he isn’t traded before next season, Williams NEEDS to improve and tap into his enormous potential.  If Bayno can do for Williams half of what he did for LMA in Portland, the Wolves will benefit hugely.  Along with that specific project, the team should benefit from having a diehard hoops junkie who has left positive impressions on his players and colleagues at every stop.  Bayno is one of the more fascinating assistant coaches in the league and the Wolves are better off for having him around.  While we look forward to some inevitable shaking up of the roster, it’s comforting to know that players coming back will have been coached up by one of the best.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “The Wolves’ Gym Rat

  1. Cynical Jason

    Interesting read (and links). It will be interesting to see what progress Bayno can make with Williams, Love, and–dare I hope?–Wes Johnson. If he can make Wes and Williams functional players, that would be awesome. It’s hard to imagine how he’ll further refine Love’s game, but if Bayno can get him to commit to smart team defense it will help a lot.

    Too bad Pek won’t have much, if any, time with him this summer. Pek could use some help figuring out how to finish contested shots at the rim, and he could use the same defensive tutoring as Love.

    • Williams, assuming he isn’t traded, is the big project I would think.
      Good point re: Pek. I haven’t followed his off-season plans too closely though — “bone chips” surgery on the ankle, then flying back home for him?

      • Cynical Jason

        That’s what it sounds like for Pek. In a recent interview he said, “I played the end of the season with pain-killing injections. On the 15th May I am scheduled to have an operation in New York. After that I have a rather lengthy rehab and preparations for next season.” The “lengthy rehab” comment scared me a little. But maybe he’s just so anxious to be in the weight room and on the court that any rehab will feel lengthy.

        • Yeah I don’t know much about that injury (sounds like same one Ray Allen is going through?) but the surgery wouldn’t seem to be too serious. You’re probably right about why he’s bummed about it.

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  5. Reblogged this on Punch-Drunk Wolves and commented:

    With news of Bayno’s departure to Toronto and Dwane Casey’s staff, this is worth re-posting. Will have a new post up soon.

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