- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

In a world where experience often trumps knowledge, the promotion of Lawrence Frank from assistant to head coach of the New Jersey Nets on Jan.26 served as a beacon for countless students of the game.

Remarkably, Frank never suited up as a player the NBA. In fact, he didn’t play in college either. His first experience with college basketball was as a student manager at Indiana under Bob Knight, and he never was a head coach at any level. Yet, in less than 12 years, Frank ascended from college manager to coach of the Atlantic Division-leading Nets.

How was Frank able to snag a top-level position without toiling for decades in the basketball backwoods? The answer has a great deal to do with his four years at Indiana and what he learned as a student manager under Knight.

“I went there for the sole purpose of learning from him,” Frank said of Knight, who has three national championships and 826 victories, third most in Division I history. “During the last two years, I was able to take notes each day on how he coached the team.”

Student managers don’t do what they do because they love filling water bottles or washing sweat-soaked jerseys. They do it because they love the game and many yearn to coach. And there aren’t many better ways to learn something than to immerse yourself in it.

“The big thing about being a manager is that you’re right in the trenches,” Frank said. “You see everything, and you know what’s important to the team.”

One of those students in the trenches is Kansas senior Justin Bauman. Bauman spends 50 to 60 hours a week coordinating nearly everything associated with the Kansas men’s squad under first-year coach Bill Self, all in the name of building a foundation that Bauman hopes will someday earn him a spot pacing the sideline.

As head manager of the powerhouse Jayhawks, Bauman’s duties range from ensuring that the players have everything they need for practices and games to assisting with recruiting visits by Kansas coaches.

Bauman’s job does not end with the close of the season. He is an integral part of two projects during the summer: Self’s basketball camp, which attracts more than 3,000 players, and the KU Barnstorming Tour, during which the team’s seniors play at various high schools throughout the country.

“They’re long days, but I’m doing what I want to do,” he said.

What Bauman really wants to do is coach. After an unsuccessful attempt to make the team as a walk-on under former coach Roy Williams, Bauman returned the following year as a manager, his goal more entrenched in his mind than ever.

“I just sat in on practices and took notes,” he said. “I knew it would be essential to my future as a coach.”

That kind of dedication is typical of a team manager, said Matt Bowen, an assistant coach at Valparaiso who was on Indiana’s managerial staff during Frank’s final two years there.

“The thing that you’ll find with managers is a really big passion for the game of basketball,” Bowen said.

For Bowen, managing included everything from sweeping floors as a freshman to supervising the rest of the staff as a senior.

“At Indiana, you worked your way up,” he said. “Some things were glamorous, others not so glamorous. If Coach Knight got his truck stuck in the mud hunting, you might have to go pull him out. But then, you might also get to drive Bill Parcells to the airport.”

Depending on the size and structure of the program, a manager’s responsibilities can vary significantly. Most managers do plenty of “housekeeping,” but some run practices and even step into drills if an extra man is needed or a player is absent.

“Everybody thinks it’s laundry, but here it’s assisting the coaches with running practices and doing drills,” said Chris Briggs, a senior manager at Kentucky. “We’re kind of all over the place doing things that no one else wants to do … loading bags on the bus, making sure players are awake.”

Although such menial drudgery keeps Kentucky’s managers busy, they acknowledge that things are more demanding at some smaller programs, said junior Steve Goodson, Briggs’ roommate.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re as busy as some lower schools,” Goodson said. “They probably have a harder time getting people to come in and work. But I would say that we put in as much time [as some professional team managers].”

Jonathan Broyles, who was one of six student managers last year at North Carolina, agrees.

“You essentially run a business,” Broyles said. “I would say [being a manager] is just like running a pro sports team, but the money’s not involved. We traveled around the country and were on national TV, no matter what our record was.”

Of course, not every student manager wants to be a coach. It was simply a passion for the game that drove Broyles.

“I’m a hardcore Carolina fan,” Broyles said. “I love basketball, and that was a way for me to get an up-close look at college basketball.”

After managing the junior varsity team, Broyles finally made it to varsity. His promotion was due in large part to his work during summer camps.

“The main proving ground was the summer camps,” Broyles said. “That’s when you find out who wants to do it. It’s harder than the season in terms of time because you’re not done until midnight.”

Spending so much time around the team enables managers to forge close relationships with coaches and players.

“They didn’t look at us differently because we were managers,” Broyles said. “You hear stories about guys staying late to shoot — we were right there with them.”

Because managers are such an integral part of their teams, they get plenty of perks. But for Bauman, a gratis Nike wardrobe doesn’t compare to knowing a few people in the business.

“I eat with the players, and I get all the same gear that they do,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing — in the end, I would rather have all the connections than the gear.”

Connections are the key to the future for Bauman, Briggs and Goodson, who strive to keep learning the game while fattening their Rolodexes. Summer camp season is the most fertile time to plant the seeds that could later develop into a coaching position.

Bauman worked at camps with former pros like Danny Manning, and Goodson has shaken hands and dropped names at USA Basketball camps the past two years in hopes that it will help him down the road.

But knowing people is not enough. Aspiring coaches have to know the game as well, said Frank, who explained that the formative years of his coaching career were those he spent at Indiana under Knight.

“He’s one of the greatest — if not the greatest — coaches in the history of the game,” Frank said. “I learned a lot from him in terms of preparation and what it takes to run the team. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to work for Coach Knight, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The most important things Frank learned as a manager were simple but enduring: Work ethic, discipline and responsibility.

Bowen agreed.

“It’s as much about what you know as who you know,” he said. “I got to know what it takes to be successful in the game of basketball.”

Bowen did acknowledge that managers who want to coach will have to overcome challenges posed by their lack of playing experience.

“If it’s me versus a guy who played in the ACC, he’s more marketable,” he said. “For coaches who haven’t played D-I basketball, it’s the toughest. Each year, it gets easier because you establish a track record.”

In order to establish that record, Bauman, Briggs and Goodson all plan to continue their education. Bauman wants to earn a master’s degree in sports psychology or sports management. He said he is planning to continue as manager next season but added he is hoping an administrative assistant position will open up.

“If I could walk up to Coach Self and say, ‘Hey, Coach, this is what I want,’ that’s what it would be,” he said. “Really, I’d like to be an assistant coach, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ve got to pay my dues for now.”

Briggs, a communications major, and Goodson, a corporate communications major, plan to continue on similar tracks.

“I’m going to pursue this,” Briggs said. “It would take something drastic to knock me off course. It can be done — I just need to go out and do it.”

Frank provided a piece of simple advice for managers who want to follow his lead.

“Keep your nose to the grindstone,” he said. “Be honest. Be dependable. Just do your task every day.”

Neither Briggs nor Goodson is a Nets fan, but both now know exactly who Lawrence Frank is.

“[Frank’s hiring] was one of the first things that caught my eye,” Goodson said. “It’s good motivation for us, you know?”

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