Determination? In high school, Lawrence Frank tried out every year for the basketball team. Every year, he’d wait for the roster to be posted. Every year, it was the same.
“Finally, my senior year,” Frank recalled, “the coach put his arm around me and said, ÂSon, you’ve got a lot of courage … but you’re still cut.'”
Determination? Frank so loved his sport, he played for a Catholic Youth Organization team AND a Jewish Community Center team – at the same time.
Determination? At Indiana he was a student manager for the basketball team coached by the volatile Bobby Knight. That was the only reason he chose that school. Four years under Bobby Knight and he didn’t even play?
Determination? In a tall man’s game, a guy who stands as short as Frank can’t live without it. “They forgot my booster seat,” he joked Wednesday, all of 5-feet-8 and looking like a schoolboy with receding light brown hair.
Determination? He has determination. He doesn’t have any players. Or practices. Not at the moment. In one of the stranger introductory news conferences – held during the NBA lockout – Lawrence Frank, 40, was handed the whistle as new coach of the Pistons.
All dressed up and no place to blow.
Time to take total control
“His first day was Monday,” Joe Dumars, his new boss, related, “and he was here at 5:30 a.m.”
What did he do at 5:30 a.m. with no players?
“Watch tape,” Frank said.
We assume one day he will be able to coach the real bodies. Maybe even talk about them. He can do neither right now. Thanks to the lockout, even simple questions asked Wednesday were met with caveats of “we have to be careful.” You never heard the name “Rip Hamilton” or “Tayshaun Prince” or even “LeBron James.” It was like playing invisible tic-tac-toe.
But figuring the Pistons will play eventually, what kind of hire is Lawrence Frank?
In a word: critical.
Notice I didn’t say good or bad. We have no idea yet. But most coaching hires in the NBA are in reaction to the firings that preceded them. Teams go from “player’s coach” to “disciplinarian” back to “player’s coach.”
In the Pistons’ case, it’s “No Control” to “Control! PLEASE!” Detroit, basketball-wise, has been in a freefall for a while now. The last two coaches, Michael Curry and John Kuester, seemed to lose the ship not long after taking the wheel. Player revolts. Lack of leadership. Too many guys essentially playing the same position.
These were not the Pistons in whom Detroit and Dumars always had taken pride. These were not hardworking overachievers. Quite the opposite.
“This was a very important hire,” Dumars admitted of Frank. “The things that happened the last two or three years, none of us are happy with.”
Try, try, again, again and again
Dumars desperately needs someone who can take the reins. Lawrence Frank will take the reins. He may pull them too tight, but he won’t let them go. He will not endure a player revolt, or mocking laughter from guys on the bench.
For his part Wednesday, Frank used a lot of buzz phrases – “core values,” “scrapbooks don’t matter” – and Dumars spoke glowingly of his new man, saying he liked his energy, spunk and even his “swagger.”
“I think someone put something is Joe’s water,” Frank said about that last word.
It’s true, a guy who was once fired from the Nets after losing the first 16 games of the season isn’t someone you’d expect to be strutting down the street.
But Frank was a good coach before that. He’s a confident guy. He was an assistant with a pretty darn good Boston team last year, and there is something to coming back again and again to get it right – whether it’s trying to make the high school team or trying to hire a coach who can win it all.
In that way, Frank and the Pistons are a good fit. They’re both doggedly determined to find the answer.
“I told my parents, if we had just lived six blocks in another direction,” Frank said, “I’d have been able to make the basketball team for a different high school.”
Now he moves to a new neighborhood.
One day, Lord willing, he’ll have an actual team to coach.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).