Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, June 4, 1999

Blazers’ Grgurich
played role in
Spurs’ revival

TIM Grgurich stood underneath the Kamehameha Schools basket firing bounce pass after bounce pass to Sean Elliott out on the perimeter.

Here for Pete Newell's Big Man camp last summer, Elliott was trying to regain confidence lost the season before.

Elliott missed the latter half of the 1997-98 campaign, including the playoffs, with a leg injury. He knew there was a good chance of a strike-shortened season, so the San Antonio Spurs forward came way west to work on his game.

"Coach Grgurich is one of the most respected assistants in the NBA," Elliott said after nailing the final 3-pointer of the two-hour practice. "He's not only willing to stand out here and feed basketballs to you for as long as you want to shoot, he's also reminding you to square up, move your feet and imagine you're hitting the game-winning shot."

AS a longtime assistant at Nevada-Las Vegas, Grgurich also worked tirelessly with another small forward, who knows Elliott all too well.

Stacey Augmon spent countless hours with Grgurich, before and after UNLV practices, trying to develop an 18-foot jumper. There was little question Augmon could play defense and get out on the fast break. But unlike Elliott, whom he beat out for a spot on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, Augmon's 3-pointers found nothing but rim.

"Stacey and Sean have had quite a history together," Grgurich said last summer. "I don't know if Sean ever got over us beating his Arizona team in that West Regional in 1989. Stacey got the better of him in that game."

Last summer, Grgurich was unemployed. The former UNLV head coach had served several seasons as George Karl's assistant at Seattle, but wasn't sure what the future held after Karl's firing. He eventually signed on with Portland, where he was reunited with not only Augmon, but guard Greg Anthony and fellow Rebel assistant Mark Warkentien as well.

One can only imagine what Grgurich thought of Elliott's huge 3-pointer - made sweeter because it was Augmon who flew past him on the attempted steal - that gave San Antonio a stirring 86-85 victory and a 2-0 advantage in the Western Conference finals.

IN an interview with NBC-TV, Elliott already had credited Newell's Big Man Camp as a key to his turnaround. In some strange way, Grgurich might have contributed to his own team's demise.

On the other hand, those familiar with UNLV's pressure style of play during its NCAA championship season in 1990, recognize Grgurich's stamp.

Anthony pressed John Stockton's Utah Jazz into an early exit, and Augmon has come off the bench to help on double teams and create fast breaks with steals out front.

"Greg is the only one of our UNLV players to make it to an NBA final," Grgurich said. Anthony is also the only Portland player to compete for an NBA title. "But I think at least one of them will get a ring before they're through."

That will come true should Portland and New York meet in this year's final. Larry Johnson, Augmon's best friend in college, scored a team-high 22 points for the Knicks in Tuesday's 88-86 loss at Indiana.

Like Elliott, fellow first-round picks Johnson, Augmon and Anthony credited Grgurich for part of their success.

"Those guys were a part of one of the best college teams ever," Grgurich said. "I hope I'm still around to see at least one of them win it all again before they're through."

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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