TrueHoop: John Kuester

Saturday Bullets

January, 23, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Before he was head coach of the Detroit Pistons, long before, John Kuester had the same job at Washington D.C.'s George Washington University.

In 1988-89, that team was abysmal, finishing 1-27.

The one was against John Calipari's UMass team.

Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog has been through the archives and found that game was really something.

Not only did the G.W. students storm the floor and cut down the nets, but Kuester reportedly shed a tear. Calipari? He pretty much lost it, as the Washington Post reported at the time:

During the spurt that put the game out of reach, Massachusetts Coach John Calipari grew more and more furious with the officials. First Calipari took off his coat and threw it. Then after a foul was called on one of his players with 3:41 left, Calipari took off his tie and started to unbutton his shirt. That's when the officials slapped him with a technical. Calipari then stomped to the end of the bench and shook hands with the Colonials' mascot. Then he walked behind the bench and gave high fives to the George Washington student section.

"I apologize for my actions," Calipari said. "If they hadn't called the 'T', I would have been barechested."

A few years ago, a friend suggested I make a big chart like the cops use in mob movies. All those photos, with all those lines showing the structure of relationships among networks of people.

Only instead of researching a crime family, I should chart Larry Brown and the long string of coaches who surround him.

John Kuester
John Kuester: One of a zillion NBA coaches with ties to Larry Brown.
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

It is, my friend suggested, a helpful way to understand many things that happen in the NBA, and would be especially helpful today.

Basketball's inventor, James Naismith, would be up there, with a line to Phog Allen who learned from the originator. Allen has a direct line to Dean Smith, who coached ... Larry Brown. 

Then the chart would start to get really wide, because the list of people who coaches who have played for or worked under Brown is immense. This is only the beginning:

  • San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was once Brown's assistant, and best man. (And Cleveland head coach Mike Brown used to work under Popovich in the job Popovich used to have under Brown.) 
  • Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry coached under Brown in San Antonio, on a staff with Popovich and San Antonio executive R.C. Buford. 
  • Boston coach Doc Rivers played for Brown when he coached the Clippers.
  • New York's Donnie Walsh was once Brown's assistant coach, in Denver, where Paul Silas (LeBron James' first NBA coach) played for Larry Brown.
  • New Orleans coach Byron Scott played under Brown in Indiana.
  • Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was an assistant to Brown in Detroit.
  • Former Detroit coach Michael Curry played for Brown in Detroit. 
All of that is background for the news about the Pistons' newest head coach. ESPN's Marc Stein has sources saying the new coach of the Detroit Pistons will be John Kuester.

If you made your big board of the Brown basketball coaching family, many lines would connect Kuester and Brown:

  • Kuester assisted Brown in Detroit and for his entire six-year run in Philadelphia.
  • Just like Larry Brown, Kuester played college basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina. Kuester played from 1973-1977.
  • In October 1978, when Larry Brown was the head coach of the Nuggets, the team signed Kuester -- who played the better part of three seasons in the NBA -- to his second NBA contract, which expired at the end of season (when Brown was replaced by Walsh).

Here's where that gets especially interesting. I know it seems like ancient history now, but Brown left the Pistons in a hail of bitterness. Brown and the Pistons reportedly severed ties after Brown betrayed the Pistons by reportedly courting a job as team president of the team Kuester is leaving, the Cleveland Cavaliers, even as the Pistons were in the 2005 Finals. (Brown then didn't get the job with the Cavaliers, and landed in New York and now Charlotte.)

Of course, that was four years ago, and the Pistons' owner Bill Davidson has since passed on. Is the reported hiring of Kuester a sign that the Pistons have mended ties with Larry Brown and his family tree of coaches? Perhaps.

Or it's a sign that it's hard to find a good coach who doesn't have ties to Brown.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The sophomores just finished their practice, with Cleveland assistant John Kuester running through sets.  Right now, Kurt Rambis is leading the rookies through a walkthrough.  Rambis' playbook is pretty basic -- a couple of flex sets, two bigs at the elbow in a horns set, etc.  Kuester's stuff seemed a lot more complex.  It must be challenging to draw up any meaningful x's and o's strategy when you have little more than an hour with a group of budding superstars who've never played together in their lives.
  • By and large, most of the sophomores were going through the motions.  They were certainly attentive and willing participants, but most seemed either tired, distracted, or a little bored.  You know who was having the time of his life?  Al Horford.  The guy radiates light.   He tackled the little rebounding drill as if it were moments before Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.  After the practice, he received the media with a big smile.
  • After being snubbed from the rookie game last season, Al Thornton is thrilled to be in Phoenix.  "I should've been here last year, but I guess I had to get better."  Ran into Al's dad in the hotel lobby -- the gang is out here from Perry, Georgia to watch him. 
  • Most bizarre sign-of-the-times moment of the session: I'm sitting in the bleachers with Seth from Bright Side of the Sun, both of us toiling on our laptops. Seth has a bottle of Dasani water resting beside him.  A young Gatorade official approaches Seth and demands that he remove the label from his water as long as he's sitting in the area.