Reporting from Phoenix — His Phoenix Suns were down on so many levels.
They lost the first two games to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, and were defeated by a bigger and, what many considered, a better team. The Suns didn't seem to have any answers for what confronted them.
Suns Coach Alvin Gentry sensed his team was in a poor state of mind when they returned home from Los Angeles and decided he would have to pull his players out of the doldrums.
In Gentry's eyes, it was going to take more than just Xs and O's — although that was important — to fix what ailed the Suns.
It first meant changing the psyche of his team. And to do that, Gentry called upon the teachings his dad, G.H., instilled in him, the man who is his inspiration.
"Once again, this comes from my dad. You listen and you learn," Gentry said. "I listened to my players and noticed their body language and I knew something was amiss."
After Gentry changed his players' mind-set in the three days off between Games 2 and 3, his team responded by winning the next two games to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
The Suns now have some momentum and renewed confidence, a feeling that they can perhaps steal Game 5 Thursday against the Lakers at Staples Center.
Part of Gentry's coaching style is to borrow from other coaches, such as Larry Brown, Doug Collins and Gregg Popovich, that Gentry had worked under.
He also listened to coaches he didn't work for, following their approach to coaching and how effective they were working with individuals — people like Pat Riley.
"So I've tried to take things from a lot of coaches," Gentry said.
Gentry told a story about when he was head coach of the Clippers and they came in town to play the Phoenix Suns. He was interviewed by former Suns coach turned broadcaster Cotton Fitzsimmons.
"He asked me, 'Why are you so down?' I said, 'I don't know,' " Gentry recalled. "He said, 'You've got one of the 30 [ NBA head coaching] jobs in the country. You should feel honored. Have fun, work your [butt] off and let that be it.' "
Gentry went to work for Game 3 of the Lakers series devising a game plan, imploring his team to run more, shoot more and play a 2-3 zone defense.
Before he did all that, Gentry had to change the mood of his players.
"His people skills are unique," Suns forward Grant Hill said. "He has a great feel. A feel for what this team needs. A feel for what's working. He's got some unique skills on top of his understanding and managing the game, strategy. I think his ability to relate and inspire and empower is great, but also he's firm when necessary."
When the Suns convened for their first practice after the Game 2 loss, Gentry didn't like what he saw.
"I did think we were having a little bit of a pity-party for ourselves," Gentry said. "I told them that's not who we are. We don't feel sorry for ourselves. We pick ourselves up and we move on. We have a chance here and let's do our job to the best of our ability."
Gentry says "character really matters" in what he does.
So when he saw his team out of character, Gentry was forced to find what had suddenly gone away.
"I think you've got to be able to deal with people," Gentry said. "Nobody is coaching in the NBA that doesn't know basketball. I don't think you can get to the NBA without knowing basketball. It's no different than working in corporate America. You've got to be a manager of people. I really believe that."
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