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Burning desire quenched by Sting

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Muggsy Bogues stole a glance at the sheet of paper taped to the table adjacent to the bench to catch the names of the officials working the Charlotte Sting's recent game against the Washington Mystics.

Good thing, too, because it's considered bad form for the head coach to harass referees without knowing their names.

"Come on, Lisa," cried Bogues, yelling at WNBA referee Lisa Mattingly. "Come on, now. [Mystics guard Nikki] Teasley can't dribble the ball like that."

Bogues got that call as Teasley was called for a double dribble midway through the first quarter of the game at Verizon Center, and he clapped his hands vigorously.

A couple of minutes later, however, Charlotte's rookie point guard, LaToya Bond, was called for palming, and Bogues, himself a former point guard, couldn't believe it.

"Teasley's been doing it all day, but as soon as we do it, they call it," Bogues muttered to his bench.

Bogues, the 5-foot-3 wonder who was the fuel that powered Dunbar High's mythical 1982-83 national championship, is cutting his coaching teeth in a most unusual place, with a women's professional basketball team.

One of Bogues' first calls after being offered the post last August was to his high school coach, Bob Wade, who was mildly surprised that Bogues was interested in getting into coaching.

"I never pictured him to be a coach," said Wade, now Baltimore City schools athletics coordinator. "He always stressed that he wanted to be in the front office. ... But I didn't have the foresight that he would become a coach. I knew he knew the game very well, but I just thought he didn't have the patience for it."

Bogues, however, said he always knew the day would come when he would swap a uniform for a coach's clipboard.

"I always thought I would coach, since I had a pretty good hand on both ends of the floor, defense as well as offense," Bogues said. "I was one of those players who didn't have to look over at the bench to get a feel for the game or, starting out, which play we needed to call. ... I thought it was my calling."

Then, with a chuckle, Bogues allowed, "I never thought that I would be coaching women, though."

He's not alone

Indeed, one of the adjustments that Bogues has had to make is in keeping with what other former NBA players who have become WNBA coaches, such as the Detroit Shock's Bill Laimbeer, the Indiana Fever's Brian Winters and the Los Angeles Sparks' Joe Bryant, have had to do.

Namely, Bogues and the others have had to adjust their expectations away from the NBA, where isolations and one-on-one play are more prevalent than in the WNBA, where crisp passing and team execution are in vogue.

"It's a hard adjustment, because [in] a lot of situations that you were successful over there, you will not be successful over here," said Washington coach Richie Adubato, a former NBA head coach in Detroit, Dallas and Orlando. "You have to now understand that there are more options that we have to get to in order to free up people and the screens have to be better. Your ... offense and defense have to be better."

So far, the results have been disappointing. The Sting (3-13) is next to last in the Eastern Conference.

Granted, Bogues spent time without center Tammy Sutton-Brown (bruised knee), a former All-Star, and point guard Helen Darling (hamstring), who were hurt at Washington last month. Both have since returned, giving the Sting a solid interior threat and an experienced ball handler.

Bogues has seen enough to know that things are slowly, but surely, going in the right direction.

"They have come a long way and they're starting to understand what my thinking is and how I like to play the game," Bogues said before the Washington game. "We're just trying to get through it together."

There are a lot of places that Bogues, 41, imagined he'd be right now, but patrolling the sideline yelling at referees from a WNBA bench wasn't one of them.

Bogues has put together a nice post-NBA life for himself, raising his three children and selling real estate in Charlotte, where he became something of a folk hero in the nine years he played for the Hornets, who moved to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season.

That was all well and good until the front office of the Bobcats, the expansion team granted to Charlotte after the Hornets moved, called last August with the Sting in a 3-21 mess of a season, likely as much for Bogues' name value as for his coaching acumen.

Bogues, who hadn't done any organized coaching, was offered the head coaching post when Trudi Lacey gave up her coaching duties to concentrate on being the team's general manager.

Joining line of Poets

Bogues follows other former Dunbar players such as Herman Harried (Lake Clifton), Eric Lee (Dunbar), Darryl Wade (Mervo) and his '83 teammate, Reggie Williams, who coached at High Point in Prince George's County, into coaching. He is noncommittal about how long he will coach Charlotte.

For now, his presence there, however, is important to the Sting, which has not done well at the gate in its 10 years. Bogues' picture adorns the cover of the team's media guide, and the franchise has named its mascot "Buggsy" in his honor.

Charlotte went 3-7 in the final 10 games last year, but two of those wins were against Detroit, a perennial postseason team. In the offseason, Bogues, who himself played at one tempo - fast - set about installing a quick-strike attack with the Sting's guards, who were more used to playing a walk-it-up half-court game.

"It's been tough, but it's been a good learning process," said Darling, a former Penn State standout. "We worked out a lot in the offseason, and I thought I knew what he wanted. And then, when the season came, it wasn't quite what he wanted.

"He's a wonderful guy. He's worked with me and LaToya to give him what he wants. I don't think we will ever be perfect in his mind because of who he is and how competitive he is. But he's always pushing to make us better."

There's still about three quarters of a season for Bogues and the Sting to earn the fourth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Even if that doesn't happen, it should be interesting to see someone who has lived basketball in one way learn the game in a different manner.

"It's more so [educational] because you're more orchestrating and instructing these young ladies to do it exactly the way you see it," Bogues said. "That's what you have to get across, that they see it the way you see it. I think the difference is you can't do it yourself. You have to instruct them. From this side, you see it a lot more and you get the opportunity to view it a lot more as a coach. You see it and you're actually going through it as you're doing it."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

Bogues file

Born --Jan. 9, 1965

Height --5 feet 3

Weight --136 pounds

High school --Dunbar

College --Wake Forest

NBA career --Drafted in first round by Washington Bullets in 1987. ... Played for four teams in 14 seasons. ... Averaged more than 10 assists with Charlotte Hornets in 1989-90 and 1993-94.

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