- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- "The Program."
It's a term often associated with college athletics. In basketball circles, mention of the word "program" usually brings to mind teams like UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse and so on. But Tom Thibodeau is one of several professional coaches who has started using the term more frequently to describe what he and his players are trying to build. As with a college outfit, Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls' front office understand they must recruit players to fit into their specific system.
"I think the successful teams in the pros, they run a year-round program," Thibodeau said before Saturday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans. "So from that standpoint I think it's very similar to the top college programs. They're year-round programs. I don't think it's any one particular thing that you do, I think it's how you do everything. It's how you approach things."
Thibodeau knows that for a team to have success, it can't rely simply on talent. The veteran coach expects each player up and down his roster to understand what he wants them to do each time they hit the floor. Thibodeau mentioned earlier this week that he thought the San Antonio Spurs were the "gold standard" in the NBA because of the way their organization runs from top to bottom. It's clear that the Spurs have a program Thibodeau is trying to emulate.
"It's not if you trap the pick-and-roll, or you force the pick-and-roll to the baseline, or you blitz and catch and shoot," Thibodeau said. "It's how you conduct your business. What you expect from your players, the professionalism, how you approach each and every day. To put everything you have into it, to play for the team. To put the team first. When you look at the teams that have been able to build over a period of time, they have those characteristics."
Pelicans coach Monty Williams has tried to learn from Thibodeau's standard, among others. Williams spent a part of last summer with Thibodeau while serving on Team USA's coaching staff under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Williams respects Thibodeau's ability to get the most out of his players on a nightly basis, a credit to the culture Thibodeau has created in Chicago.
"He has players from different programs," Williams said. "When you watch them, he's brought some of the same concepts to help those guys be as successful as they can. You see some Utah sets for [Carlos] Boozer, you see some pin-down sets for [Mike] Dunleavy. He's smart enough to know he doesn't want to out-trick himself and try to come up with something. He just goes with what works."
Like many coaches around basketball, Williams was happy to get the chance to see how Thibodeau has built his own program with the Bulls.
"Thibs demands a lot of his guys," Williams said. "And that atmosphere creates winning, I think. I just think that he does things the right way. I enjoyed my time with him last summer, listening to him talk about different concepts. [It was] surprising to hear him ask me questions about the way we do things. We were able to bounce a lot of stuff off of each other. Just talking to him, I understood right away why he has so much success as a coach. Because of that atmosphere and what he demands from his players."