Pistons’ Van Gundy lauds work of Beilein, Izzo

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, N.Y. — Even in the midst of the stretch run of the NBA season, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy finds time to glance at the occasional NCAA Tournament game.

During the first weekend of games, Van Gundy only got to watch snippets of the first two rounds, but had some good observations.

Like most people, Van Gundy was impressed by No. 7 seed Michigan’s run to the Sweet 16, with wins over Oklahoma State and the upset victory over second-seeded Louisville on Sunday. Having built relationships with Michigan coach John Beilein and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, he was impressed with the seasons that each coach put together.

“John’s always been one of the best,” Van Gundy told reporters after Monday’s practice. “John understands everything: spacing, timing, cutting, and he also understands matchups against what teams are doing. John’s a really smart basketball coach and a great teacher, which is why his guys have developed skills.”

As career coaches, both Van Gundy and Beilein have made their mark on the profession. Their paths crossed in 1981, when Van Gundy was an assistant at the University of Vermont and, Beilein was getting his coaching career started at Erie Community College in western New York.

In watching games with his father, who is also a basketball coach, Van Gundy came to appreciate the genius behind Beilein’s coaching tactics and the movement from coaching at Newfane High School in the mid-1970s to West Virginia in 2002 and finally to Michigan five years later.

“It’s an unbelievable story; he’s never been an assistant anywhere, but then in junior college, Division III, Division II, Division I at Canisius and then at Richmond,” Van Gundy added. “He’s just literally worked his way up the ladder. Didn’t have a coaching mentor who got everybody’s attention who would get him a job; he’s just earned his way up through all his success.

“Every level he’s gone to, he’s won and just moved on to the next level.”

Their paths crossed again when Van Gundy was head coach at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Beilein was at LeMoyne in Division II. They were in the same division and played each other — Lowell won their only two meeting, in 1991.

Though they’ve gone their separate ways — Van Gundy went to Wisconsin before getting his first NBA job as an assistant with the Heat — but Van Gundy can still be counted among Beilein’s admirers.

“We’ve seen John’s teams forever and he’s been great,” he said. “He’s continued to develop stuff but he’s been really good, just a great coach and the people in western New York have followed him.”

MSU’s ‘incredible year’

Van Gundy also caught a glimpse of Izzo’s Spartans, who beat Miami (Fla.) in the first round before falling to top-seeded Kansas on Sunday.

Despite the adversity Michigan State faced, Van Gundy said he was disappointed after the loss and the way the season ended. Given the difficult circumstances, Izzo did a good job, all things considered, he said.

“With all the injuries Tom had this year, it’s just another great coaching job,” Van Gundy said. Getting in the tournament with all he went through — he lost all his big guys, so no frontline — and he’s still in the tournament.

“To win a first-round game by 20? He had an incredible year and he won’t feel that way because of all the success he’s had, but this is a typical Tom Izzo coaching job.”