As many of you probably already know, Gregg Popovich’s first head coaching job was at Division III Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, California. He still speaks fondly of his experience coaching the Sagehens and the entire 5-college experience. So as a proud Pitzer alum, I was thrilled when the Alumni office offered the chance to attend the recent Spurs-Clippers game in Los Angeles and chat with Popovich courtside at Staples Center afterward.
“Poppo” (his nickname in Claremont) was warm, funny, and self-deprecating. In response to our questions, he touched on many subjects, from his experience disciplining frat boys to which Italian restaurant the team would be dining at later that night. When asked his advice for a struggling 20-something looking for direction in life, he replied that, “You know I’m just a coach, right?” And he noted that after coaching the 2020 US Olympic team, he’s likely done with coaching, too.
The entire conversation was delightful, but a few things really stood out for me:
He is fully aware that his political stances aren’t always popular back home in Texas. “I’ve made a lot of friends back in Texas, let me tell you,” he joked.
His plan is to rest guys more than any other team in the league. Athletic performance and team management is a lot more scientific than it used to be, he said, including arcane practices like testing calcium levels every day. Resting players can be a problem on some teams, he acknowledged, because it causes players’ stats to go down. But he said that wasn’t an issue on the Spurs, and he credited the practice with helping increase the longevity of his players’ careers.
He “hates” it that so many Spurs fans show up at away games. He’s worried that seeing all those fans supporting the visiting team will make the home team mad and play harder.
He loves foreign players’ work ethic. Many foreign players grew up in places where basketball wasn’t taken seriously, he noted, saddled with “crap equipment” and forced to “get over themselves” early in their careers. So they often play better team ball: players are less selfish and the ball moves better. On the other hand, too often, “everything here is playing to the camera.” He sarcastically added, “ Oh my God, you made a three-pointer! That is so important. That will be a really big deal when you’re 35!” But then he couldn’t resist adding how much he loves Kawhi Leonard’s attitude, noting that Kawhi was likely to beat himself up for having an ordinary game: 21 points and 5 fouls in 30 minutes in a 105-97 victory. (Note: this was in response to my own question.)
Bonus fact: Most famous Pomona-Pitzer basketball alum? Mike Budenholzer!
More on Poppo’s Pomona-Pitzer experience: