Mike Dunlap ’80 Takes Over NBA Bobcats

Mike Dunlap ’80 instructs the Charlotte Bobcats’ Summer League team in Las Vegas in July.

Mike Dunlap ’80 may have the toughest job of any NBA coach this season: new head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. It’s his first NBA head coaching stint, and he’ll be looking up a steep mountain. Last season, the Bobcats won only 7 of their 66 games. In Dunlap’s favor is his long and wide-ranging career. He has been an assistant coach at LMU, USC and St. John’s University. He led Metropolitan State College, in Denver, to two NCAA Div. II titles. Dunlap also brings international experience to bear: For three years, he was head coach of Australia’s Adelaide 36ers. And in 2006–08, he was an assistant coach with the NBA Denver Nuggets. Dunlap was interviewed by Aaron Smith.

You’re taking the helm of the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that had the worst winning percentage in NBA history last year. How do you turn it around?
We’re going to create a work ethic and an identity for how we play. We’re going to play faster than what they have, and do some things with pressing, trapping and playing up the floor that disturbs our opponents. No. 1 is play extremely hard. No. 2 is exemplary conduct in our communication with one another. And No. 3 is dare to be different in how we play the game.

It sounds like “Organized Anarchy” — the name of one of your training videos.
That's a good description of what we’ll do. We’ll trust our players to play very aggressively, north and south, and to take aggressive shots. From the LMU perspective, it’s somewhat like [The System] Paul Westhead used [rewriting NCAA scoring records from 1985-90], but not quite to that extreme.

What coaches influenced you?
Ed Goorjian, LMU's coach from 1980–85, introduced me to Pete Newell '40 [coach of the 1960 U.S. gold medal-winning Olympic team who ran a world-famous instructional basketball camp]. The Newell family, and John Wooden back in the day, had the greatest influence on my coaching. Along the way, USC's George Raveling, who I worked for, and George Karl, coach of the Denver Nuggets, also made an imprint.

Is there a common denominator in their approaches?
All of them trust in their players. All of them knew that the coach-player relationship had to stand the test of time.

Describe the ideal basketball player.
The ideal player is the one that you have. You’ve got to figure out what makes them tick by asking a lot of questions and actually listening to what they’re saying. It’s not the directive talk that captivates your team, it’s the ability to listen and modify your system to the player and the team. It takes a while to go down that road.

So, is it harder to merge players’ talents or manage egos?
It’s easier to recognize their talents and then shape the system around them. As for the Bobcats, we’re very young. If you complicate the game, they’re going to get mental gridlock, so I’ve tried to keep what we’re trying to do fairly simple.

Greg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs and one of the NBA's best, started at a Div. III program. You come from a mid-major. How does that kind of experience shape you?
At the small-college level, you’re coaching the whole person. You not only want to win games, you want to stress the academics and the identity of the student-athlete. And you have the time and lack of interference to do that. I come from a background where teaching is really emphasized.

Now you’re working for the one-and-only Michael Jordan, owner of the Bobcats. What’s that like?
It’s been a truckload of fun in that he knows his own mind, he’s competitive as all-get-out, and he’ll do whatever it takes to create an environment where we can win.

Any thoughts on the LMU program?
I have followed it closely since the day I left. Look, they’ve struggled since the Hank Gathers years, but I think they’re finding their way. It takes time. For everybody that went through that, it changed their lives and the school forever. The silver lining is that there is a beautiful legacy there. I’m keenly interested in LMU’s success.

Aaron Smith is a Los Angeles-based writer and frequent contributor to LMU Magazine. His work focuses on education, culture and technology.

(NBAE Photos/Getty Images)


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