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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

The Sage of the Spurs Has Come a Long Way

May 19, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

For those who followed the Lakers in the '80s, Kurt Rambis might have seemed an unlikely candidate to coach the team, or any team for that matter, in the late '90s.

But compared to his San Antonio counterpart in the second round of the NBA playoffs, Rambis was a budding Red Auerbach.

While Rambis was doing the dirty work for "Showtime," sort of like a gardener at the Playboy Mansion, Gregg Popovich was coaching at Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont.

Looking at his credentials, you didn't exactly see a coach who some day would pace the NBA sidelines along with Lenny Wilkens and Pat Riley.

Through his first seven seasons as Sagehen coach, Popovich's record was 69-110. They finished no better than fourth in their conference before winning it in 1985-86.

Popovich decided after that season to broaden his basketball horizons, taking a sabbatical from Pomona-Pitzer to become a volunteer assistant under Larry Brown at Kansas.

Their relationship became the most important in Popovich's career, although Brown seemed to derive all the benefits at first.

Upon returning to Pomona-Pitzer for the 1987-88 season, Popovich accepted Brown's invitation to play the Jayhawks at Lawrence, Kan. The Sagehens fell, 94-38.

The Jayhawks went on to win the national championship, Brown went on to become the Spurs' coach and, "out of the blue," according to Popovich, he received a call asking him to be Brown's assistant.

In an interview with The Times in 1988, Popovich called it a "quantum leap." He had no idea how right he was.

*

Whenever a team achieves success, sports sections run stories about how the team was built. . . .

With the Spurs, that's a short story. . . .

It begins and ends with David Robinson's broken foot, the luckiest break the Spurs ever got. . . .

Robinson sat out the first 18 games of the 1996-97 season because of a bad back, returned for six games, broke a bone in his right foot and didn't return. . . .

That put the Spurs in position to win the lottery and take Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick. . . .

It's not as if San Antonio's defense against Shaquille O'Neal is new to the Lakers. . . .

When Seattle played Surround-a-Shaq in the second round of last year's playoffs, he countered by passing the ball back outside to Eddie Jones. . . .

Jones, whose reputation for disappearing in the playoffs was built mostly against Utah, responded by averaging 22 points on .544 shooting, .591 from three-point range. . . .

If Shaq can team with Glen Rice for similar results, the Lakers will beat the Spurs and anybody else they play. . . .

That's the reason the Lakers got Rice, isn't it? . . .

Lakewood Artesia's Jason Kapono, one of the best high school basketball players who remains uncommitted, will commit Thursday. . . .

Missouri was the early favorite, but UCLA is now a contender. . . .

As for the theory reported here last week that Kapono was discouraged by some at Artesia from considering the Bruins earlier, his coach, Wayne Merino, said he has heard nothing of the sort. . . .

He said Kapono looked elsewhere initially because the Bruins were recruiting players with similar styles, such as Carlos Boozer of Anchorage and Kareem Rush of Kansas City, Mo. . . .

But when Boozer chose Duke and Rush chose Missouri, Merino said UCLA suddenly looked more attractive to Kapono. . . .

Duke rebuilt even before Elton Brand, William Avery and Corey Maggette made themselves available for the NBA draft and Chris Burgess went to--where? Utah? UCLA? . . .

The Blue Devils recruited four of the nation's top 20 players, including a point guard some coaches say is already better than Avery. . . .

He will have to be in order to distinguish himself. His name is Jason Williams. . . .

The U.S. women's World Cup soccer team will be honored at a luncheon hosted by the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and Sports Council on June 1 at the Hotel Inter-Continental in downtown Los Angeles. . . .

The team, which opens the tournament June 19 against Denmark in East Rutherford, N.J., includes Southern Californians Julie Foudy of Laguna Niguel, Joy Fawcett of Rancho Santa Margarita and Tisha Venturini of Newport Beach. . . .

They expect to be home again for the July 10 final at the Rose Bowl. . . .

Credit FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, with a sense of humor. . . .

It scheduled Fair Play Day last summer for the day when the United States played Iran in the men's World Cup. . . .

This summer, Fair Play Day is scheduled for June 27, the day the U.S. women's team plays in Foxboro, Mass., against North Korea.

*

While wondering when the PGA will quit pursuing Casey Martin in court as if he's a criminal, I was thinking: The Orioles should name Cal Ripken Jr. player-manager, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux should worry more about their pitching than their hitting, maybe Shaq's bodyguard can play power forward.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com

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