- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SAN ANTONIO — Jerry Sloan is all bombast and fury, unsparing and uncensored, as he goes about extolling the value of hard work, discipline and fearlessness.

His talk is tough, his critiques razor sharp.

“Our guys are young,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “Sometimes they think shaking hands is working too hard.”

Sloan can be as harsh on himself as his players.

He has said he will judge his career a failure if he never wins a championship, the one accomplishment that has eluded him in more than 40 seasons in the NBA as a player, scout, assistant and coach.

His Jazz teams reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, only to be denied each time by the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.

That is not good enough for a coach who sees the game in black and white.

You win and play on, or you lose and go home. There are no nuances in his world view.

You either perform at a high level or take a seat next to him, as forward Andrei Kirilenko found in his struggles to adjust to an offense that now revolves around Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.

Kirilenko, an All-Star selection in 2004, welled up in tears after playing only seven minutes in the second half of the Jazz’s opening game in the playoffs.

It was a reaction borne out of his season-long frustration with Sloan, the old-school coach ill-equipped to deal with either a player’s tears or demands to be more involved in the offense.

It is all too simple to Sloan: Produce and you play.

Sloan always has sparred with his players, whether it was the highly sensitive Karl Malone or the lug who was Greg Ostertag.

If ever a player fit Sloan’s demanding nature, it was the tight-lipped John Stockton, as hard-nosed as Sloan ever was and self-motivated.

Sloan has one directive to his players: Work it out yourself. Most do.

Williams, the second-year point guard out of Illinois, received the Sloan treatment in his rookie season after struggling to adapt to a system predicated on the reads of the principal ball-handler.

Sit, watch and learn, Williams was told.

He was none too happy about it.

But learn he did. And look where he is now, leading the upstart Jazz to the Western Conference finals.

That is the Sloan way.

Stick to the basics, and the basics won’t fail you.

The mantra has served both Sloan and the franchise well. There could be a lesson in there for the other 29 franchises of the NBA.

There is a simple truism of the NBA.

The more things change around the NBA, the more they stay the same in Utah, with the 65-year-old Sloan the eternal fixture on the sidelines.

From Stockton and Malone to Williams and Boozer, the Jazz remain a celebration of the pick-and-roll offense and a scrappy-minded defense that reflects the no-nonsense approach of their coach.

Sloan has employed the same principles for so long that it is hard to imagine there ever was a time he was under pressure to have his team play a more entertaining brand of basketball.

“One year we came to camp and our players all wanted to run,” Sloan says. “I said I don’t have a problem with running. Everybody was having a good time in the exhibition season. We were running, having fun, and guys are taking shots and getting their numbers. And then we start the regular season and go 2-5. And we are supposed to have a pretty good team.

“I didn’t do much about it. I just let them run. Finally, one of my players — you probably know which one it was — came to me and said, ‘What about all this running?’ I said, ‘Nobody ever said anything to me about winning.’ He said we are going to play like you want us to play. And then we went ahead and started winning games, and they became more comfortable with winning than losing.”

There he goes again, weaving a tale with a message that captures his philosophy.

Winning trumps all else: the inevitable locker-room spats, the pettiness, the jealousies, the style of play and the money.

“I coached a couple of guys after they had been in the league 10 or 11 years, and they had never been in the playoffs until they came to our team,” he says. “They were so overjoyed by it. It was kind of refreshing.”

Most NBA coaches are part shrinks required to juggle the fragile egos of their players.

That is not Sloan, the throwback whose notion of being touchy-feely is to order a player to get off his rump and work himself to exhaustion if he ever wants to amount to anything.

That is the old McLeansboro, Ill., farmer in Sloan.

He has no time for pity, no patience for the complacent.

If you do not seize the moment, someone else will. This is an alpha-male league.

If someone knocks you down, you better get up.

Getting knocked down happens to everyone in the NBA.

Those who dare to keep getting back up are the ones who have a chance to succeed.

Sloan is a testament to that after all these seasons.

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