As I’ve said before, I spent 8 years coaching NCAA basketball at Claremont McKenna College. Claremont was and remains a top-flight Division III program. Our primary rival has always been the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens, where some fellow named Gregg Popovich had his first coaching job, from 1977 through 1988. (I lost track of Gregg after he left Pomona-Pitzer – if anyone knows what became of him, please let me know.)
One of my favorite moments from coaching occurred near the start of my seventh season. We were coming off an excellent year in which we won the league. Our 6’6’’ post player Henry Albrecht, from Seattle, Washington, had won Player of the Year as a junior, and our 6’7’’ shooting guard Chris Greene was first team All-conference as a sophomore.
With both players returning, along with several other excellent players, we had high hopes for the season. A few days into practice, a remarkable thing happened. Henry came into the coaches’ office to say he wanted to talk to us. He told us that he recognized that Chris was the most talented player in the gym, if not the league, and that Henry would have no problem if the coaches decided to feature Chris ahead of him.
It was a remarkable recognition and concession from such a talented player, especially one entering his last season in the program. As a result of that talk, the transition to Chris was seamless, though Henry remained a fellow top performer. Indeed, Henry was first team All-Conference, and All-District, while Chris wound up Player of the Year that year as a junior, and eventually All-American as a senior. Oh – we repeated as league champion.
That selflessness did not occur with our local pro team, as Shaq and Kobe were never able to sort out who was alpha dog. As adults and professional athletes, they were not able to do what Henry Albrecht did as a 21 year old college student.
Compare that to the Spurs. David begat Timmy, and Timmy begat Kawhi, and then LaMarcus. Timmy also selflessly allowed Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker their moments as alpha dog. The next such transition may occur over the next few years with the Spurs’ rookie point guard Dejounte Murray. Will we look back five years from now and be able to say that the Oui Frenchman begat Dejounte?
To help answer that question, I went to my ex-player Henry Albrecht, a long-time Seattle-area resident who returned home after his four years in Claremont – and a short stint hooping in Europe.
As a rabid hoops fan, and very proud of Seattle hoops, Henry has always followed Seattle players through their college and NBA years -- including Spurs rookie Murray through his high school years in Seattle, and his one season at University of Washington.
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Lee Dresie: Henry, the Spurs have always insisted that players have both talent and the proper attitude. Murray clearly has a lot of talent. What can you tell Spurs Nation about him as a player and person?
Henry Albrecht: Coach, thanks for the kind words. Though you didn’t mention Popovich gave me a campus tour -- but I didn't get into Pomona-Pitzer. So for spite I married a Sagehen.
Here are some stream of consciousness thoughts... please note the Seattle bias. Go Sonics!
Dejounte Murray is skinny. His jumper is decent, but a little slower and more free flowing than the best (most robotic) shooters. The shot doesn't compare to fellow skinny Seattle high-school legend Jamal Crawford's. Like Crawford, Murray plays leaning forward, like the rim is a drain he is circling like water.
He has a relentless motor and edge, but knows when to pump the brakes and float the shot over bigs. Maybe higher draft picks would try to just dunk over defenders -- but sometimes the best point guards are most dangerous around 15 feet from the hoop, with dribble-pass-shoot options. Remember that guy Tony Parker? Murray gets to the rim when he wants to, but if you take it away he'll eat a steady diet of 17 footers.
Murray is not a pure shooter like CJ Wilcox, Martell Webster, Aaron Brooks or Jason Terry, not even a shooting guard -- though his lanky, long-arm D could get him minutes there. He is unselfish on the court. Competitive but not an "I want to kill you" mentality of the best true scorers. (I've never met him off the court, but he seems cool.) He is also very young (and did I mention skinny)?
So, to continue comparisons with what I know best -- Seattle hoopers -- I would say he gets to the rim like fellow UW-one-and-done Tony Wroten did, but with a little less of the abandon and a more awareness and length. And should stick in the league from the get go.
LD: Henry, as you know, to play at Claremont, or in San Antonio, you need to play smart and intense D. Can he do that?
HENRY: On defense, he knows how to position himself and use his long skeleton arms. He can guard both guard positions, but will have trouble with really strong 2s (DeRozan? Jimmy Butler?) and the fastest point guards (who can really guard the "non-Seattle" people in this blog like Kyrie or John Wall or Kemba Walker one on one?)
LD: How does he match up athletically?
HA: He doesn't bounce like Nate Robinson (Washington), Zach Lavine (from Seattle area) or Terrence Ross (Washington), and isn't built like Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington), but could he average 7 and 6 as a rookie like Gary Payton did? I think that's an optimistic over-under line with Patty Mills and Monsieur Parker.
He may not come out of the gate like Brandon Roy did. But getting him this late is a pleasant surprise for one of the greatest organizations in the history of sports. Remember how people underestimated Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas? See where the Celtics are now?
LD: One last question – if Murray starts getting real time on the court, will you become our newest Spurs fan?
HA: If Pop comes to speak to my company (Limeade) next time he is in Seattle, I will immediately buy a silver & black Murray jersey.