Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Popovich wins Coach of the Year

By The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO - Gregg Popovich won the NBA Coach of the Year award Monday for leading the San Antonio Spurs to the league's best record.

Popovich, the first Spurs coach to win the award, received 40 out of a possible 121 first-place votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters.

Golden State Warriors coach Eric Musselman was second with 26 first-place votes, and Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was third with 18.

The Spurs went 60-22 and won their third straight Midwest Division title under Popovich, who became coach in December 1996.

He gave credit for the award to his staff and players, particularly Tim Duncan.

"A few years ago, we won the No. 1 pick in the lottery," he told reporters. "Everybody raise your hand - if we hadn't gotten Duncan, who thinks Popovich would still be standing here?"

San Antonio once trailed Dallas by 81/2 games in the division this season, but beginning Jan. 1 the Spurs went 41-9 to pass the Mavericks in the final week of the season.

Popovich has a regular-season record of 339-185, giving him the most wins of any San Antonio coach, and he has a .647 winning percentage over seven seasons.

He is 35-26 in the playoffs. The Spurs are tied with Phoenix in the opening-round series after blowing an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 4 to lose 86-84. Game 5 is Tuesday night in San Antonio.

"It's an honor, and a humbling experience," he said of the award, "but I'd trade it for a win in Phoenix last night."

When asked how he plans to celebrate the award, he said, "I'll be going to the film room to try to figure out some ways to do some things better against Phoenix."

Reserve guard Steve Kerr said Popovich didn't even mention the honor at a team meeting Monday.

"He's not the kind of guy who's seeking the limelight, especially when we lost the game last night," Kerr said.

Guard Stephen Jackson said Popovich has done a great job harnessing the energy and talent of the team's young players, himself included.

"I know a lot of times my emotions go the wrong way, and I think Pop is the only one who can control that," said Jackson, a starter in his first full season with the team. "I think I need to be around Pop, because Pop's making me a better player."

The Spurs have won at least 50 games in five of the past six seasons. In the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, San Antonio was 39-13 and won its first NBA championship.

Besides being the Spurs' coach, Popovich was the team's general manager from 1994 to 2002 before giving that job to R.C. Buford before the start of this season.

Popovich started with the Spurs in 1988 as an assistant to coach Larry Brown, a position he held for four years. In 1992, he went to Golden State to serve in the same capacity under Don Nelson before returning to San Antonio as general manager.

A 1970 graduate of the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet studies, Popovich was a four-year player for the Falcons and led them in scoring as a senior.

After fulfilling his military commitment, he returned to Air Force as an assistant coach before moving west in 1979 to take the head coaching position at Division III Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, Calif. He was there for eight years before joining the Spurs.

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