WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. —Alvin Gentry had his Pelicans up and running Tuesday, and then running some more, during the team’s first practice of training camp here at The Greenbrier.
Which no doubt pleased one observer.
Mike D’Antoni, Gentry’s former boss with the Phoenix Suns, is spending the week here, watching as Gentry begins implementing his version of D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less,” offensive philosophy with the Pelicans.
“Mike should be coaching in our league right now,” Gentry said of D’Antoni, who has been out of the profession since parting ways with the Los Angeles Lakers last year. “I really, really believe that.
“All of this garbage about how ‘You can’t win that way’ is a crock you don’t want to get me started about. I bounce a lot of stuff off him because probably 80 percent of what I do as a head coach is because him.”
Considering that Gentry’s other mentors include Larry Brown and Greg Popovich and that he spent last season as the top assistant to Steve Kerr as the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship, that’s impressive.
But D’Antoni deflected the compliment.
“I can’t agree with that,” he said. “Alvin’s a great coach, and I’m very happy for him.
“It’s a great opportunity for him, but for the Pelicans to have him, so it works both ways. He’s a tremendous person, and he knows basketball.”
For his part, Gentry said he was pleased with the Pelicans’ conditioning level Tuesday, one honed by voluntary workouts in Los Angeles organized by All-NBA forward Anthony Davis.
“If you’re going to be a running team, you’ve got to be in great condition,” he said. “But more than that, you’ve got to be consistent about your running.
“It’s not so much how fast we run, but how consistent we are in what we’re doing. That involves creating an atmosphere where even if you don’t see much of the ball on every possession, you’re consistent enough to know what do when your time comes.”
“If you’re going to play fast, you’ve got to play smart,” he said. “If you play sloppy, you develop bad habits.”
Gentry said he and General Manager Dell Demps discussed doing a training camp away from the team’s Metairie headquarters when Gentry was hired in June, but that the deal with The Greenbrier developed only after Jim Justice, the resort’s owner, issued an invitation for them to check out the possibility of coming here during the Saints training camp in July.
“If you know anything about Jim Justice, you knew it was going to get done,” Gentry said.
The Pelicans are actually practicing on a pair of indoor tennis courts with a basketball court laid over them, with other hoops amenities such as the scoreboards and bleachers added.
Instead of bringing its own weight equipment, the players are using the ones in the area overlooking the courts, which includes the tennis pro shop.
That means while most of the practices are closed, at least to the media, customers in the pro shop can check out what’s going on.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a store in the same place where we practice,” Gentry said. “But it doesn’t bother me.
“The main thing was to get away to a completely different environment from where we would typically practice. It’s an opportunity to bond that we wouldn’t have if everyone just went home at night.”
The players didn’t seem so taken with the change.
“It kind of feels like being on a road trip for a week,” Davis said.
Guard Tyreke Evans said of his first impression of West Virginia, “We didn’t expect it to look like Santa Barbara.
“It’s just really nice getting to work.”
During Gentry’s brief first stint as a head coach (36 games with the Miami Heat in 1995), one of his players was guard Bimbo Coles.
Coles just happens to be a native of nearby Lewisburg, West Virgnia, and after his 15-year playing career, he returned to his hometown, where owns and operates a CrossFit facility.
Good thing this is an indoor sport
In two summers at The Greenbrier, the Saints have yet to have a practice be canceled because of rain.
Tuesday would have tested that run of good luck if they were still here. It’s been raining on and off in the area for almost a week; and Tuesday, the skies really opened up.
The rains are supposed to continue through the week, putting in danger the Pelicans’ only scheduled outdoor outing: a skeet shooting excursion Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m really, really anxious to see that,” Gentry said. “If think if one of our guys can hit one of 25, he’ll be the winner.”
Gentry said if shooting is out, there will be a team-building bowling outing at The Greenbrier’s facility.
“We’ll do something that’s a challenge so we can find out who the best athlete on this team is,” he said.
Either way, there’s no time for golf, especially for the busy coaching staff.
“That’s too bad,” Gentry said. “But I’m pretty sure (TV analyst) David Wesley had his plans ruined today.”
The Greenbrier getting a workout
The Saints aren’t the only NFL team to use the facilities here.
Next week, instead of going back to Phoenix after their game at Detroit, the Arizona Cardinals will come to The Greenbrier for a week of workouts before their Oct. 18 game at Pittsburgh.
The turf field also has been used by the MLS’ Columbus Crew for a stopover when returning from a match and several high school and college soccer tournaments.
Doug Miller, formerly of the Saints’ media relations department and now The Greenbrier’s vice-president for sales, marketing and promotions, said the success of the Saints and now the Pelicans has prompted other teams to inquire about holding practice sessions here.