Day 1 of Las Vegas Summer League was an interesting one. Aside from flying out in the middle of a massive haboob — yes, it’s ok if you snicker at that — and navigating a city filled with Kardashian clones while in search of a decent meal, there were some positive things related to basketball, as well.
If you are a believer in the universe sending signs, the Suns should be in for some good luck in Vegas this week. As the team walked onto their commercial Southwest Airlines flight, a man walked down the jetway behind them. It was the pilot and it was obvious he recognized the players. Before boarding the plane, he stopped to say something.
What he had to say was simple, he was a 25-year Suns season ticket holder and he was honored to have the team as his passengers. It was a unique and unexpected moment. It wasn’t all he did, though.
As we made our final descent into Sin City — which sounds more ominous than it really is — the pilot came over the in-flight intercom to announce the Suns Summer League team was on the flight. He wished them luck and then announced to all 200 people on the plane, including the poor woman who had to be wedged between the Morris brothers, that he had the utmost faith in new Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. In a completely organic moment, the passengers transformed into a sell-out crowd all applauding and cheering for the team.
It was just a reminder of the fact that Phoenix always has been and always will be a Suns town.
Right on the Mark
There were some encouraging results on the court, as well. During practice I spent my time focusing on a long-time fan favorite, who was embarking on a new journey.
Mark West will officially coach in his first organized game as a member of an NBA staff this year. After a 17-year playing career and time as vice present of player programs, he decided this offseason that it was time to take on a new challenge and join his former teammate on the bench.
One may wonder how he’ll make the transition. I’d say to them, easily.
On the court, he is a natural directing drills for the Suns’ big men, like he’s been doing it for years. Like his playing days, there is a quiet confidence to what he does. He has an obvious belief in his abilities and an apparent dependability to his style.
Off the court, he is just as prepared and he’s ready to mentor the younger players on the roster. It is quite clear he wants to help them grow from boys to men — and I’m not talking about the R&B group — by dispensing the wisdom only a long career in the league could provide.
This was most apparent in his interactions with 6-9 forward Dwayne Collins on Friday. He is a player whose game mimics West’s, minus the two-inch height difference that is. The elder Sun relied on his defense, rebounding and intelligence to have longevity in his pro career. He preached these tenets to his younger clone after practice in hopes of making an impact.
Just like his game, West kept pounding away on his protégé, dispensing an impressive amount of knowledge to Collins. The second-round draft pick soaked it up like a sponge, although he did say he’d have to go back and watch film of West’s game just to verify his pedigree.
If he does, he’ll see one of the hardest working guys in the franchise’s history. Although, he shouldn’t need to. West’s performance on the court as a coach so far demands respect without any verification