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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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In Sports

New Milwaukee Bucks head coach Larry Drew has experiencing in developing young big men like John Henson. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Bucks coach Drew has history developing big men


John Henson ducked under a couple television cameras, angling his 6-foot, 11-inch frame in an effort to not block the view of his new head coach, Larry Drew, who was seated a table a few feet away.

The second-year pro took some time out of his Monday morning to attend Drew's introductory press conference, and he – along with fourth-year center Larry Sanders – were worth discussing immediately.

"This team has some really good young talent, young talent that I'm excited about developing," Drew said without prompting less than six minutes into his press conference.

"I think these big guys are guys that are going to be a big part of the future. I think the development is going to be very important but you can't teach height and you can't teach length. These guys, John, Larry Sanders, these guys are two guys who can really affect the game and I'm very excited about the chance to work with both guys."

It's no wonder he immediately focused on the two athletic big men as he begins his career in Milwaukee. Drew is coming off three straight playoff seasons as the Atlanta Hawks head coach and six straight overall as a member of the Hawks coaching staff, seasons built around the development of 6-10 center Al Horford and 6-9 power forward Josh Smith.

Drew was also on staff to oversee the maturation of 6-9 forward Marvin Williams in Atlanta, who averaged less than nine points a game as a rookie in 2005-06 to become a consistent double-digit point producer.

Another big man who blossomed with the Hawks during Drew's tenure was Al Harrington, who broke out with a 17.5 point, 7.0 rebound season in 2004-05 and followed that up with an 18.6 point, 6.9 rebound season in 2005-06.

"The development they showed with those guys is something hopefully we can do," Henson said.

Despite being a guard during his 10-year NBA career, Drew has been coaching since 1992 and has been on the staffs of several franchises that featured some of the game's premier big men.

He first played with, and then coached, Vlade Divac in Los Angeles with the Lakers. And, he was there upon the arrival of a 24-year-old Shaquille O'Neal in 1996. Robert Horry was also on some of those Lakers teams, giving Drew first-hand experience in managing players 6-9 or taller that had a variety of offensive and defensive sets.

Perhaps an underrated part of the bigs Drew has coached over the years, including O'Neal, Smith, Kenyon Martin and Jason Collins is how good they could be defensively.

It's an attribute already built in with Sanders (201 blocks), Ekpe Udoh (85) and Henson (42).

Despite the shot-blocking ability, the Bucks don't have a "traditional" big on the roster a la O'Neal and Horford, but there is quickness and athleticism to work with.

And, as one Eastern Conference scout told OnMilwaukee.com late last regular season, Sanders could be as "good as he wants to be" especially if he continues to work on a mid-range jump shot that, at times, was an effective weapon.

"The challenge will be, like any other challenge when you're talking about young players, is certainly you want to develop their skills and certainly make them better," Drew said. "We'll be doing a lot of things from within, within my system, the way I play, and I really see John, I really see Larry, I really see Ersan, I see those guys being a perfect fit. I think it's important for a coach to look at a young man's talent and play to his strengths and we will develop what we believe are their weaknesses."

If the last 21 years is any indication, the Bucks big men are in for an education from their new coach.

"After playing these guys, I know what they're capable of," Drew said. "Giving them a different style, giving them something I feel is going to benefit (Henson and Sanders) and all the guys who are under contract, I see it being a real big plus."


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