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New Orlando Magic coaching staff brings a youthful energy

BasketballNBAOrlando MagicAndrew NicholsonStan Van GundyKyle O'Quinn

On Tuesday night, in a simple pregame drill, an Orlando Magic assistant coach simulated the physical play that rookies Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn will endure this season.

Wes Unseld Jr. tossed a basketball off the backboard, and Nicholson grabbed the rebound. As Nicholson jumped to lay in the ball, Unseld slapped Nicholson's arm as the rookie banked the ball in off the glass. A few seconds later, Nicholson collected the ball again, and Unseld grabbed him as he elevated off the ground.

"Good!" Unseld yelled when the ball went in.

They repeated the process several more times. Then, it was O'Quinn's turn.

Assistant coaches throughout the NBA do drills with players all the time, but the sequence nonetheless illustrated the recent transformation of the Magic coaching staff. After five successful seasons in Orlando, Stan Van Gundy and his seasoned staff have been replaced by Jacque Vaughn and a younger group that wears its collective exuberance on its sleeve.

"There's definitely a youthful energy," Magic guard J.J. Redick said.

No one exemplifies that youth more than Vaughn, who, at 37 years old, is the NBA's youngest current head coach. Just three seasons removed from his playing days, Vaughn looks as if he still could step onto a basketball court and play a few possessions.

At each full timeout this preseason, Vaughn has huddled with his three bench coaches — James Borrego, Unseld and Brett Gunning — and has spoken with them before he talked to the players.

After practices, assistant coaches for player development Laron Profit and Luke Stuckey join them and discuss how the sessions went.

The six men have worked together only for a couple of months, and one of their key tasks is to develop chemistry with each other.

"That part of it has been unbelievable," Vaughn said. "We eat together. We talk, not only about basketball but about life, about each other's families. That part of it has been unbelievable. You don't know when you put a staff together . . . how guys are going to mesh together."

Vaughn wanted his coaches to bring an array of backgrounds.

Borrego, his lead assistant, started his NBA career in 2003 with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator. Unseld began in 1997 with the Washington Wizards as a pro and college scout. Gunning started working in the NBA in 2008 with the Houston Rockets as their director of player development.

Profit, who played in 135 NBA games, offers a former player's viewpoint. Stuckey spent the last four seasons as the head basketball coach at a high school outside San Diego.

"Even if we're talking about post-ups, the perspective from each individual gives me something that I can think about in a meeting," Vaughn said. "Then it's up to me to decipher what I'm going to do with that information. But I get a great variance of having those guys on the staff. They've been great."

Vaughn and his coaches spent a total of 13 seasons as NBA assistants prior to this season.

Van Gundy and his staff brought more experience when they were hired by the Magic in 2007.

Van Gundy and his lead assistant, Brendan Malone, already had combined for four seasons as NBA head coaches and a total of 24 seasons as NBA assistant coaches. The other three assistant coaches — Patrick Ewing, Steve Clifford and Bob Beyer — had a total of 10 seasons of experience as NBA assistants.

That group went on to compile a 259-135 regular-season record during their Magic tenure.

Malone, Ewing, Clifford and Beyer split the game-planning responsibilities for future opponents, and they also played significant roles in player development.

Borrego, Unseld and Gunning will divide the game-planning work on the new staff, Vaughn said.

Vaughn also will receive some help from Gordon Chiesa, who has the title "special consultant to the head coach." Chiesa spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz, and Chiesa is expected to spend perhaps one week per month with the Magic and will watch all of the Magic's games.

Vaughn hopes Chiesa will provide an outside perspective.

Vaughn calls the rest of the group "experienced yet young in their ways."

"So," he added, "they'll be energized and enthused every single day."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BasketballNBAOrlando MagicAndrew NicholsonStan Van GundyKyle O'Quinn
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