Steve Alford, an Indiana high school and college basketball hero, has found patience the most difficult lesson of his first NBA season.
"The mental adjustment was difficult because I was playing almost all the time in college and high school," Alford said. "Now, for the first time in my career, I'm having to watch to learn. The neat thing is, it's at the ultimate level."
Alford was a former Mr. Basketball at New Castle High School and All-America at Indiana University. But entering his NBA homecoming, Alford had played in just nine of 22 games for the Mavericks. He has played only 92 minutes this season, making 8 of 26 shots and 8 of 9 free throws. Until playing the final minute of Dallas' game last Tuesday at Chicago, the 6-foot-2 guard had not played in six consecutive games.
"Just sitting on the bench has been a big adjustment," Alford said. "But it's not sitting on the bench at Indiana or New Castle. I'm sitting on the bench at the professional level. There's only 275 of us in the NBA. A lot of good players, a lot of great players, have had to sit. I've got a lot to learn but I'm going to do it."
Alford's family and many of his fans from New Castle were among the crowd at Market Square Arena to welcome the Hoosier home.
"The support I'm getting from my family and the city of New Castle has been a blessing," said Alford, who has been sustained by support from Indiana Coach Bob Knight and Sam Alford, Steve's father and high school coach.
"(Coach Knight) has been very supportive, as usual. He's told me a lot of things," Alford said. "He's said there are a lot of rookies who don't play immediately because very few veterans are average veterans. He and my father have both said I have to have patience. I know very few rookies play. Unless they're like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, you're not going to get a lot of playing time."
Dallas Coach John MacLeod, an Indiana native himself, has been pleased with Alford's progress.
"He has made big progress since the beginning of camp," MacLeod said. "He's a very, very competitive player. He played some when Brad Davis was injured and he learned very quickly how much pressure would be put on him. He's learned a great deal from that. He's a tough competitor with great poise.
"He's not going to start now, but he will wind up being a very good player. The biggest thing will be to change his mental attitude. Under Bobby Knight, he was a finisher. Here, he has to think like a quarterback. He has to learn to handle the ball against quicker people. Next year, Steve will be a much, much better player."
Alford's entire perspective on the game has changed with the differences in college and NBA play.