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College to NBA is a tough transition for coaches


May 21, 2004
The news of Mike Montgomery deciding to leave Stanford to coach the Golden State Warriors is shocking, shocking, shocking! I can't believe it. If there's one guy who epitomizes what college basketball is supposed to be about, it's Mike Montgomery.

Mike Montgomery
Mike Montgomery epitomizes what college basketball should be about.
Montgomery really fit in at Stanford, as a teacher, motivator and educator.

Look at his success with the Cardinal -- he's won Pac-10 titles, recorded 30-win seasons and reached the Final Four (in 1998). This is a big blow to the Stanford Cardinal and to college basketball.

Check out the track record of college coaches who have tried to make that transition. Think about guys like Jerry Tarkanian, P.J. Carlesimo, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger ... and yours truly.

These are guys who belonged on the collegiate campus and had a great desire to teach and practice in an intense way. Each coach on this list believed in intense preparation, practicing, teaching and motivating -- they were made for the college game.

I've often said that the most successful NBA coaches are guys who played the pro game and therefore understand the rigors of travel and the pressure of the NBA lifestyle.

When I coached the Detroit Pistons in the late 1970s, I vividly remember Hall of Famer Bob Lanier coming to me and saying that we couldn't practice the same way college athletes did because of the NBA schedule. Three to four games a week take so much out of NBA players, and those two-hour practices on the non-game days are just too much.

But I was stubborn and didn't listen, because I came all the way up from the junior high school ranks, through college coaching at the University of Detroit and then on to the NBA.

The Phil Jacksons, Pat Rileys and Larry Browns of the world have played at the pro level. Yes, Brown also coached in college, but he understands the NBA mentality. I'm not saying Montgomery won't be a success, but it will be tough to make the adjustment. Still, I wish him all the best.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he has been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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