Becky Hammon returns to Garden as Spurs assistant coach

NEW YORK (AP) Becky Hammon kept her eye on the stats, looked for player tendencies and gave instructions to the San Antonio Spurs from the bench during their game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Pretty much like any of the 180 or so assistant coaches in the NBA.

Hammon returned to her old home court at the Garden on Tuesday night when the Knicks upset the defending champion Spurs 104-100 in overtime. The former New York Liberty guard used to light up the arena with 3-pointers and no-look passes during her eight seasons from 1999-2006.

''I love New York. I was giddy, coming back and seeing old friends,'' Hammon said. ''New York gave me my first chance. New York City makes you tough. It made me tough.''

Now she's working with the Spurs, one of six assistants on coach Gregg Popovich's staff and the first woman in that full-time role in the NBA.

''She's another brain,'' Popovich said before the game. ''She's another person that has an opinion, has a lot of good experience about the game, and I value that highly.''

Hammon sat next to Popovich on a plane ride back from the 2012 London Olympics and they didn't even talk about basketball. On Tuesday night, she sat behind Popovich in the second row with several Spurs assistants.

She received a warm reception when shown on the overhead videoboard. Hammon wasn't the only recent female hired by the NBA at the Garden. The game was officiated by first-year referee Lauren Holtkamp.

Hammond, the six-time WNBA All-Star who retired last summer after a 16-year career, has worked mostly with the guards, but not exclusively.

''She brings a good dynamic to the team,'' said Spurs forward/center Jeff Ayres. ''What's cool about our team is we diversify everything. Sometimes we see her working with the guards and sometimes she'll come work out with the big guys and work on passing and cuts.''

Hammon developed a friendship with Tony Parker since competing in the 2008 All-Star Game and skills competitions. During her WNBA playing days, she's been the rookie, rising star, international player and injured veteran, all the experiences that most professionals go through in their careers.

Does she give any tips to Parker, the 13-year veteran?

''Well, he's pretty good,'' said Hammon, smiling. ''Sometimes if I see a pick and roll coverage in a game, I'll say `Hey, look for this.''

During games, Hammon said she's checking to see if the team is running the ''correct schemes'' and executing the game plan.

''I try to be very choosey with what I have to say and when I say it. Sometimes you can overload players with information, and that's not good either. Maybe it's a trend or a trend over the past five or six games,'' she said.

Spurs guard/forward Danny Green said Hammon does ''the same things most assistants do'' during practice and games.

''She gives us pointers `Oh, you can do this more, you have this open shot, you can back cut. Make sure they tell the bigs to do this,''' Green said. ''She's doing a great job, especially for her first year. Everybody likes her and she's a joy to have around.''

Former Liberty teammate Sue Wicks has watched Hammon evolve from a WNBA rookie to an NBA assistant.

''She has a level of expertise that those guys respect,'' Wicks said. ''They might beat her one-on-one, but there's few people who have ever played any sport that exists in that tight little margin of knowing what excellence is and demanding it day after day after day. That's Becky, and she expects it from herself.

''She'll coach with the Spurs the same thing. They work on perfection.''

Hammon said the 82-game season can be a grind for players, missing birthdays and weddings, compared to the 30-some games in the WNBA. There are other differences and similarities in the men's and women's game.

''A screen and being able to read defenses is all the same. Granted, we're not really drawing up lob dunk plays,'' said Hammon about the women's game. ''But how many dunks has Tony Parker had this year - none - and he's still very entertaining to watch.''

Hammon left New York to play eight seasons in San Antonio, then injured her knee while playing for the Stars in 2013. She rehabbed and attended Spurs practices at the invitation of Popovich during the 2013-14 season.

''She's very confident in the knowledge that she has and the way she approaches the game - from a leader and point guard position,'' Popovich said. ''It's been good to have her because it's another perspective that maybe we didn't have before.''

Her hiring is a move ''in the right direction'' and a ''great conversation starter'' for parents and kids, Hammon said.

''I know there are plenty of great basketball minds out there that are women,'' she said. ''So it will be fun to see how this kind of moves things along for women.''

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