Coaches who gave David Fizdale his shot know he’s built for this
After his playing days as an All-West Coast Conference guard, David Fizdale returned to his University of San Diego alma mater as a graduate assistant on then-coach Brad Holland’s staff. He quickly made an impression.
“The first day of coaching, Dave walked in, stopped practiced and started telling guys what to do. Brad and I kind of sat back, didn’t say anything and went to the office. I go, ‘Wow, he’s good isn’t he?’ ” said then-assistant Kyle Smith, now University of San Francisco head coach. “We said, ‘Dave is going to be really good at this.’ ”
Holland laughed at the anecdote.
“Fiz took no time to feel comfortable. He wasn’t trying to take over. He just knows the game, knew what we needed to do,” Holland said.
Coaches from Fizdale’s early coaching forays gave their recollections and impressions in phone interviews with The Post of why they feel Fizdale is a strong choice by the Knicks to lead and coach the team from the depths of mediocrity — actually, mediocrity would be an improvement.
All raved: from Holland, Smith and current St. Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett, also a former USD assistant, to ex-NBA coach and current University of Nevada head coach Eric Musselman, who gave Fizdale his first NBA job at Golden State.
“If it can get done, he’ll get it done. He’s that good,” Bennett said.
It’s the near photographic memory, the work ethic, the communication, the street smarts.
It’s all of it.
“When he was in Miami a few years ago, I got a phone call. He said, ‘I’ve been watching your Venezuelan National Team play. Some of these sets you’re running with ball movement and multiple players touching the ball, I’d love to pick your brain on,’ ” Musselman said. “That resonated with me: ‘Who is spending an NBA offseason watching game tape of the Venezuelan National Team?’ ”
Musselman admitted when he hired Fizdale what surprised him most was a young coach working well with NBA vets like Nick Van Exel (who later was on Fizdale’s staff in Memphis, the job that became his résumé blot for his Marc Gasol feud).
“He was an incredible, impactful coach, really good X’s and O’s coach but he was a great communicator,” Musselman said. “Nick was a veteran near the end of his career. Fiz was able to make a connection, reach him and communicate with him. For a young coach to be able to get with a veteran spoke volumes for his future.”
But it was more than just talking. And he demonstrated it as a player.
“The quintessential quarterback of our team. Studied tape of opponents more than any other player I’ve had,” said Holland, a 1979 first-round pick of the Lakers out of UCLA. “Hard worker, saw the game, really good at helping us make adjustments even during games. He was that proverbial coach on the floor. … And he is super street smart. He grew up in South Central.”
Smart on the court. And at breakfast.
“It’s his ability to recollect plays and know where all 10 guys were on the floor,” said Smith, who coached Columbia for six years. “He has a photographic memory, like Larry Bird. We’d meet every day for egg sandwiches and he’d talk about practice and certain plays. We didn’t even watch film and he’d say, ‘This guy missed a rotation on this baseline drive.’ I was like, ‘My gosh.’ Then we’d watch film and see it. He’s a little bit like a savant.”
Bennett claimed “he got a snapshot in his mind” of what occurs on court.
“When we recruited him, one of the reasons we took him was because he had a high basketball IQ but his magnetism with people was exceptional,” Bennett said
“What I didn’t know is he can see things on the court that other people can’t see as a coach and as a player,” Bennett said. “A lot of guys don’t see what just happened as crystal clear as he does. A lot of people need video. He’s got a snapshot in his mind as it happens and can teach and communicate it. Teaching, patience, working with people are definitely strengths.”
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