Lionel Hollins Talks Nets' Future, Kevin Love, Team USA, Overseas Hoops and More

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Lionel Hollins Talks Nets' Future, Kevin Love, Team USA, Overseas Hoops and More
Steve Mitchell/USA Today

The NBA envisions a day when Africa will have a booming basketball infrastructure, and a key individual who's been behind that movement is new Brooklyn Nets head coach Lionel Hollins.

Hollins is a veteran to Africa. This week marks the eighth time he's been there for basketball activities and the fourth for the NBA's Basketball Without Borders (BWB) program, which includes community outreach initiatives. While in Johannesburg, Hollins has been teaching the next wave of African standouts—along with NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, fellow coaches Dwane Casey and Brian Shaw, and players Bismack Biyombo, Tobias Harris, Amir Johnson, Terrence Jones, Andrei Kirilenko, Roger Mason Jr. and Greg Monroe—at the NBA's 12th annual BWB Africa. The event features a select group of 50 boys and 25 girls from 20 countries around the continent.

Twenty-one years since the NBA first hosted a basketball camp in Africa, led by Mutombo and former Commissioner David Stern, more than 35 players from the continent have made it to the NBA, including eight campers from the league's BWB program in the region. One of them, Joel Embiid from Cameroon, was the highest ever drafted at No. 3 this year.

What's bigger now is Africa's deeper connection to the NBA—last season, games and programming increased to reach 55 African countries and territories, and the continent recently agreed to the first exhibition game for next summer—and the league sees endless potential there. In fact, Africa has the youngest population of any region in the world, according to the Global Counsel, with half of it being younger than 19.

Bleacher Report caught up with Hollins from Johannesburg to discuss BWB Africa, preparing for his first season as Nets coach, Kevin Garnett's future, Team USA's outlook after Paul George's injury and much more.

Courtesy of the NBA
Lionel Hollins (third from right) visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg with fellow NBA coaches and players.

 

Bleacher Report: Now a month into being the head coach of the Nets, what stage in your preparation are you at?

Lionel Hollins: I've already had a coaches' retreat with all the coaches that I've hired, just laying a foundation and starting to talk about defensive philosophies, what we want to do offensively, who I am, how I like to coach, getting them acclimated to me and me acclimated to them. So when we come back together in September and the players are around and we're meeting, everybody will be on board with how we do things.

It's more about the coaches at this stage; players are wherever they are working out and doing their thing, and they'll all start coming back in September. But right now, it's really low-key. The most important part is getting the coaching staff together, and getting them acclimated and getting to know each other. I also reached out to all of the players and talked to them about who I am, and some of the expectations that I have of them from what I know of them from the past. But in training camp, things change. Some will make a different impression on me. It's all a part of the process.

 

B/R: Speaking of your philosophies, what types of messages have you addressed with your coaches and players?

LH: Being aggressive, being tough, being physical. It's just who I am and how I like to teach. Those are the types of things that I stress. It's not so much this is my philosophy and this is what we have to do, because I'm receptive to a lot of different philosophies and points of view.

Ultimately I'll make the decision on how I think it's going to be best for the Brooklyn Nets, but that's why you listen and you're open to see other people's point of view, and how they did it with other teams. And then I'll make a decision on some things I'll take from them and some things I'll keep and do my way. Nothing is an in-depth, etched-in-stone policy or philosophy. It's just getting to know each other and hearing other people's perspective.

 

B/R: Offensively, while your main ball-handler, Deron Williams, is a pick-and-roll player, your scoring anchor, Brook Lopez, is a traditional low-post center. With both being healthy, how will you find that offensive balance between the two of them?

LH: The game of basketball has always had a combination of pick-and-roll and people that can post up. Finding somebody that's big that can post up has been something that's been an issue for most teams in the last few years, with the emphasis being on shooting threes. I think that you can play with a big guy who can post up, and [your team can] still shoot threes.

I go back to [Hakeem] Olajuwon when they won the two championships [with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and '95], and there have been other players that have anchored the post while [their teammates] played on the three-point line. I don't think that [post-up players and three-point shooters] are against each other. It is certainly something that you have a balance of. If you have great three-point shooters and a good post-up player, that makes your arsenal that much tougher to defend.

 

B/R: Exciting times for Mason Plumlee, who is one of the finalists for Team USA. What has impressed you with his play during the national team training camp?

LH: I'm excited for him because it's a great honor to be chosen, whether it's the Olympics or the World Cup. You're getting an opportunity to represent your country. Mason has done a great job of being who he is and playing to his strengths, and he's gone out there and he's made the coaches recognize him daily. As a young player without a reputation in the league, that's what you have to do when you get an opportunity. You have to go and keep convincing the coaches that they need to keep you around for another day, and Mason has done that.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Mason Plumlee (right) is a finalist to make Team USA, which will compete in Spain for the FIBA World Cup later this summer.

 

B/R: Staying in the frontcourt, what's the latest with Kevin Garnett? Has he talked to you yet about returning?

LH: No, I haven't talked about that with him, but all reports that I have [from team management] is that he's coming back. It's his right to make that decision or change his mind if he has decided to come back or not come back. I'm not worried about that. That's out of my control. That's a decision that KG and his family have to make, and I'll leave it with him.

 

B/R: Before we started chatting, you expressed interest in sharing some thoughts about what Paul George's injury means to the future of Team USA participation. What's on your mind?

LH: I just think from the start, we have to just say condolences and pray for a speedy recovery and a full recovery for Paul George. I saw the injury; it was very nasty. But I don't think anyone can be blamed, I don't think that it's something that you can say, "If they weren't participating for the USA Basketball, that it wouldn't have happened somewhere else or some other kind of injury." I just think that it is reactionary to say, "We shouldn't be playing overseas and we shouldn't be playing in the summertime." Players go out and play, and injuries happen.

I think it's a great honor to be able to go and represent your country. Foreign players have done it for years. When you have your teammate going and playing for his country and you're playing for your country, you get to compete against each other. That's also a highlight that everybody doesn't get to do. I think that it will continue to be where NBA players will play on the national team, as it should be.

 

B/R: Another factor is the continued globalization of the NBA game, which you're seeing firsthand in Africa. Starting with the impact of the 1992 Dream Team, a player wanting to be involved with Team USA continues that legacy and, not to mention, increases his global appeal for more marketing dollars. What are your thoughts?

LH: No question about it. When you're a part of the globalization of the game that the NBA has been, and your players are represented—since '92, and all the Olympics and all the World Cups—it would be a shame if they weren't any more. And I don't think that will happen. I believe that players will still want to represent, and it's quite an honor and it's something that has had the growth of basketball globally just jump out leaps and bounds from where it was before. I just think that it's all positive, and I just hope that it continues.

John Gaps/Associated Press
The 1992 Dream Team.

 

B/R: Multiple reports on Thursday confirmed that Kevin Love will be on his way to Cleveland. And when you think about the Eastern Conference, Derrick Rose will be back and younger teams are only getting better. What's your pulse on the East? Does it feel more competitive entering next season?

LH: I think that there was momentum last year when you look at what Toronto did, what Washington did, what Charlotte did. You already had Miami, you already had Chicago, you already had Indiana, and then those other teams jumped forward, and then Atlanta is making strides. The East-West thing has always been talked about. You couldn't say last year that the East was not on par from a growth perspective. The West has had more teams that have been established and have done it before, but it will be competitive all around, which is what the league is striving for anyway.

 

B/R: You know Love a great deal, having coached in the West since he entered the NBA. What is he like to game-plan against?

LH: Obviously he's a great three-point shooter, he's a great rebounder and he'll be a force that you have to deal with. We had to deal with him in the West, and it's just going to make it that much more difficult. It's just going to be that much more competitive, but players like to play against the best players. When you play against the best, it's the easiest to get up for. So we'll see what happens.

 

B/R: Switching gears to Basketball Without Borders, what stands out to you about the African market, from the talent level to the hoops landscape?

LH: It's in its infancy really when you start talking about facilities and the need for facilities over here. Also it's still in its infancy in teaching the coaches. I know that many years ago Jack Ramsay and Hubie Brown were in Europe going around country to country giving clinics to coaches, which is as important as giving clinics to players and having camps for players. It's teaching the coaches the American game and the American way of playing it, and the fundamental drills that are needed to help your players evolve. You're seeing Europe is way ahead from that perspective, Australia is way ahead from that perspective.

China is starting to come because the U.S. has been over there, and it's just natural for the NBA to be here in Africa. It's a huge continent with a lot of athletes that just need opportunities, and there are a lot of kids that are starting to get into prep schools in the U.S., to go to colleges in the U.S. But their development is a little bit delayed because the expertise of the coaching and the lack of facilities. So it's just fun to get out and be a part of helping the game grow globally.

Courtesy of the NBA
BWB Africa 2014.

 

B/R: What kind of coaching culture does Africa need?

LH: When you start talking about coaches, we're talking about African coaches who are here on the ground every day year-round, and [we're] just teaching them to give them a better understanding of how to teach their kids, and to teach them at a younger age. And with more facilities and more coaching, the players will get better. As we've come and piqued the interest of the country all around, what we did is we got programs started at a younger age.

There are seed programs in Senegal, there are seed programs in South Africa that African NBA players and African scouts have implemented, and now you have to teach coaches in order to have them teach the players. That's where the talent gets stronger and the interest gets higher. But the players need to start playing younger. Most African players are not playing until they're 15, 16, 17 years old, whereas American players are starting to play at eight, nine, 10 years old, which gives them quite an advantage. When you don't have a lot of facilities, there's not a lot of opportunities for formal leagues to be played.

 

B/R: From a player or style-of-play standpoint, is there anything unique that you've seen over there?

LH: I think with the athleticism that you have, they'll fit into any style of play. It's just a matter of teaching the fundamentals of the game at a younger age, so they have better instincts for the game by the time they get to high school and are ready to go to college. That's the most important thing. With style of play, players play and they define what style of play is going to be played by how good their talent is. So I don't think that's as big an issue as just getting in and teaching the fundamentals to the coaches and players, and getting those players involved at a younger age.

Courtesy of the NBA
Campers at BWB Africa 2014.

 

B/R: NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo is with you in Africa. What has his impact been and the overall grassroots efforts to expand the game of basketball there?

LH: Mutombo has been a great ambassador going around speaking on the game of basketball and teaching the game of basketball. And there's been players and coaches who have come with him, so there's definitely been grassroots work going on over the years. And now that the NBA is coming in and doing these camps all around Africa, I think that, one, creates interest, and, two, creates awareness of what's needed. So everybody needs to get on board. There was a time in China where there weren't the facilities, and now they're building facilities all over China.

The game in China is growing and it's going to do the same thing here in Africa. It's just something that's needed from a younger age, so the kids can get involved younger. Usually they're playing soccer, rugby or cricket all the way up in age. But basketball is going to fit right in, and there's going to be a whole generation of kids that want to play basketball rather than play soccer or another sport. That's only going to help the game evolve on this continent.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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