While warming up for a game this season, the young Suns gathered
around assistant coach Tim Grgurich as he worked up a sweat
demonstrating the proper way to dive for a loose ball. "It's rare
for an older guy like him to have such a good relationship with
the young players," says center Jake Voskuhl.
At 59, Grgurich (GER-ger-ich) is the NBA's most influential--and
p.r.-phobic--assistant, and he continues to work as hard as any
newcomer. In previous stops with the Sonics, Blazers and Bucks he
has built a loyal following. "When he was in Milwaukee with me,
he had a bad back," says Timberwolves guard Sam Cassell,
recalling that Grgurich would wear a brace to practice. "But no
matter how much pain he was in, he got out there every day and
challenged my shots. He did a lot for my game."
In 1992, Grgurich left UNLV after 12 years as an assistant to
join George Karl's staff in Seattle. (Two years later he returned
as the Runnin' Rebels' head coach, only to step down after seven
games, citing the hectic pace and his unresolved ill feelings
about the university's treatment of former coach Jerry Tarkanian
and his staff.) As a Sonics assistant he was the first to run
intensive, college-style workouts with young Sonics Shawn Kemp
and Gary Payton--sessions that Payton says turned him into an
"Before Gerg, NBA assistants didn't normally work with players
individually, because the mentality was, either the players are
good enough or they're not," says Blazers player personnel
director Mark Warkentien. "At that time the players coming into
the league were getting younger and in greater need of coaching,
and Gerg was a college guy who helped bridge the gap."
As a result of Grgurich's influence, NBA teams arguably do a
better job of developing young talent than colleges. "The
colleges have to revamp their system," says Grgurich in a rare
interview. "The European kids are making so much headway because
they get to practice 12 months with their coaches. Our college
kids come out of classes in May and aren't allowed to see their
coaches again until September. Let the coaches do their work."
Grgurich has no ambition to be a head coach again, and his
refusal to sign anything longer than a one-year contract allows
him to quit any job on principle. It also liberates him to be
brutally honest and constructively critical with players, fellow
coaches and management, which--combined with his floor
burns--earns him their respect.
His influence is extensive. During a weeklong camp that he
finances each summer in Las Vegas at no cost to the participants,
Grgurich oversees full-court workshops for about 60 NBA and
college players as well as 25 fellow coaches. "It's as pure a
basketball environment as there is," says Pacers coach Rick
Carlisle. "If you're a coach who wants to learn the game and
learn how to build relationships with players, Tim Grgurich is
the guy to hang with."