Mark Madsen gets chance to help Lakers develop their moves
LAS VEGAS — It didn’t take long for Mark Madsen to bust a move in his return to the Lakers.
On the same day he was contractually set to start as coach of the franchise’s Development League team, the onetime power forward known for his celebratory dance moves shifted into a more prestigious role as one of the Lakers’ player-development assistants.
“I just went about five steps down the hall and took a left,” Madsen said Saturday, “and now I’m in there with the Lakers’ staff.”
Consider it moseying closer to his dream of becoming an NBA head coach.
It’s been a largely unglamorous journey, featuring stops as an assistant with the Utah Flash of the D-League and as a graduate assistant at Stanford, before the inescapable glitz of the Lakers enveloped Madsen upon his return this spring.
Kobe Bryant gave his former teammate a hug on his first day back at the team’s practice facility, a reminder of happier times for the Lakers. Madsen spent his first three NBA seasons as a reserve with the team, winning championships in 2001 and ’02 that he punctuated with some unorthodox dancing.
He’s already bounced around plenty in his new role, sprinting from near half court to underneath the basket to deliver a pointer in practice before the Lakers opened play in the Las Vegas Summer League.
“It’s awesome,” center Robert Sacre said. “Him bringing that youthful energy is tremendous. It’s really contagious, and I think it helps our squad a lot.”
Madsen, 37, earned his quick promotion after impressing Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike D’Antoni with his attention to detail during conversations about how to implement D’Antoni’s system with the D-Fenders.
Understanding nuances is something Madsen knows well. He studied opposing players’ tendencies while coaching under Brad Jones with the Flash and was responsible for scouting 10 teams while coaching under Johnny Dawkins at Stanford.
His role with the Lakers will be to work in tandem with fellow player-development assistant Larry Lewis, teaching every aspect of the game. The 6-foot-9 Madsen will be the lead instructor with big men Sacre, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill.
If Madsen has to share a few unpleasant realities along the way, so be it.
“I want to be truthful with players,” Madsen said. “Sometimes the truth can hurt, but you have to be able to tell the truth to the players — the positive truth and the developmental truth — and I think if you can do that, I think players respect that because players want to get better.”
Madsen has known he wanted to coach since reading John Wooden’s book “They Call Me Coach” while in college at Stanford. He was an All-American who led the Cardinal to the Final Four in 1998 before starting a nine-season NBA career that ended with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009.
His time with the Lakers was memorable for more than championships.
Madsen recalled his panic as a rookie at having been set up on a blind date while in Indianapolis but having brought only sweats and shorts on the trip. Teammate Horace Grant told Madsen to come to his hotel room early that evening, where he had laid out a beautiful suit and a pair of polished leather shoes.
“He said, ‘Wear this suit, wear these shoes, and here’s $100 to take her to dinner,’” Madsen recalled. “I said, ‘Horace, the suit looks awesome. I’m going to borrow the suit, I might borrow the shoes, but you can keep your 100. I’m in the NBA now.’”
Madsen has found that the highs of coaching can be as exhilarating as the highs of playing.
“As a player, when you made a great play or you were on the court and something good happened,” he said, “you felt this amazing adrenaline, you just felt great inside. And it’s different as a coach because you see it happen on the sideline and you see the energy of the player making the play, you see his excitement and then that gets me excited.”
Madsen still gets asked about his dancing everywhere he goes. If he’s at a basketball game, the topic might come up two or three times.
He doesn’t mind. In fact, fans might be treated to an encore performance should the Lakers win another title.
“All I can say is, if we win this next year, I don’t want it to just be me dancing,” Madsen said. “I want everyone to be dancing, and I’m willing to teach moves.”
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