Barry Hecker is a self-described “dinosaur,” having spent 23 years as an NBA player personnel director and assistant coach.
“Old school” might be a more favorable label. With roots that included a stint as Westminster College’s head coach in the 1970s and some time at West High School, the Murray resident never lost his love of fundamental basketball — even at the highest level.
Most recently having joined in the turnaround of the Memphis Grizzlies, Hecker parted with coach Lionel Hollins last spring and is out of the NBA now. But he’s no less interested in somehow changing part of the league’s culture. So here’s a forum, for a coach who formerly worked in Memphis’ FedExForum:
• The drafting of college players
Hecker once strongly advocated the minimum-age rule that kept NBA teams from drafting high school players, but now he believes that change did not go far enough. He wishes players would have to stay in school for two seasons.
“I would like three years, but that’s not going to happen,” he said.
By contributing to the one-and-done phenomenon, the NBA “messed up their minor league,” Hecker said. “Nobody knows how to play. They don’t stay in school long enough. There’s entitlement on all levels, and who created that? We did.”
• The lack of fundamentals
He knows there are exceptions to his statement, but Hecker wonders about the coaching that AAU players are receiving in the summer, when they’re playing so many games. The result is that many players arrive in the NBA and have to be taught routine skills.
“Just some knowledge of the game … how to roll on a pick-and-roll,” Hecker said, as an example. “And passing’s atrocious.”
With Hollins in Memphis, “One of the reasons we succeeded is we spent a lot of time on fundamentals.”
In that regard, Hecker believes the teachings of Utah native Dick Motta, a longtime NBA coach, are relevant today. “The game’s still based on fundamentals and structure,” he said, “as opposed to trying to trick somebody.”
• What he’ll miss
While most of his career involved scouting, as opposed to being on the bench, it’s likely that no longtime employee of NBA teams endured more losses per year than Hecker, who worked for Cleveland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis. The first playoff series victory for any of his teams came in his 21st season, as the Grizzlies upset San Antonio in the first round in 2011.
Yet he values his opportunity to help players develop, and misses the competition. When the assistant coaches would divide opponents for scouting purposes, “I wanted the best teams,” Hecker said. “I really enjoyed coming up with a game plan. If we won, it was really fun.”