Cowens expects Hornets to cultivate mean streak

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to the age of the nasty Hornet.

Charlotte owner George Shinn has given Dave Cowens a three-year guarantee and a mandate to "put the stinger back" into the Hornets. Cowens, who rode floor burns into the Basketball Hall of Fame, said he can deliver.

"We're going to be a little nastier next season," said Cowens, officially named the Hornets' fourth coach Wednesday. "And that comes with superior conditioning."

Cowens looked like a man ready to roll up his sleeves Wednesday. Except he didn't have to in a short-sleeved white short and no coat. He was animated, blunt and funny, joking that he was as ready "as an unmilked cow" to take over this team.

But his excitement was tempered by realism. He didn't ignore the liabilities of the team he'll coach.

"I think this is a good team. It won 41 games," Cowens said. "It won a number of those games just on its offense and with some semblance of defense. . . .

"They don't need me to [help them] score. They need me to organize their defense."

Basically, Cowens said he plans to improve the defense by asking players to have more faith in each other. He's not a big fan of constant switching and double-teams, but he sees Charlotte players as having done little to rescue each other defensively.

"Help is a big word in my vocabulary," said Cowens, 47. "If Matt Geiger helps four guys, then four guys are helping him. That's what's needed."

The picture Cowens drew of himself is that of a teacher and organizer. He admitted he's not a great strategist yet. Actually, he said his ex-boss, San Antonio coach Bob Hill, is such a fine offensive coach that all Cowens worried about with the Spurs was the "Xs."

And he admitted he'll probably get a bit flustered initially being in charge in game situations. He said he'll compensate for that in two ways -- by over-preparing in practice and by surrounding himself with veteran assistants.

Spurs vice president Gregg Popovich said Cowens is naturally wary of over-complicating a system. Cowens said his practices will be heavy on one-on-one drills used to clean up technique. He regularly participated in drills with the team as a Spurs assistant, and said that won't change now that he's a head coach.

Cowens said he's committed to a running offense and a pressure defense. He describes his role as a "COP" -- as in communicate, organize and provoke.

Expect him to be heavy in the provoke area -- Cowens promised Shinn he won't tolerate a lack of effort from any player. Shinn, sometimes accused of being too close to his players, has given his blessing to that policy.

"He said he'd rather lose with [the second team] than go with his best players if they're not playing hard," Shinn said. "The main thing our team lacked was playing tough defense. That's the one thing our fans have been concerned about.

"He has complete control [on the court]. If they don't follow his lead, he can bench them or do whatever."

"Whatever" is at least through the '98-99 season. Cowens signed a three-season guaranteed contract with an incentive clause that could guarantee a fourth season. If the Hornets reach the playoffs in two of three seasons -- one being '98-99 -- Cowens' fourth season is guaranteed, according to Shinn.

Pub Date: 5/31/96

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