Groomed for success
Hard work, grit and fine pedigree figured in Pritchard's rise to GM
When Kevin Pritchard arrived at Kansas from Tulsa, Okla., as a freshman in 1986, he was a 6-3 white guy with average quickness, a decent jump shot and a boatload of determination.
Pritchard, signed to a five-year contract last week as the Trail Blazers' new general manager, wanted to play point guard.
'During the time we recruited Kevin, he told us he wanted to play point guard,' says Larry Brown, then the Kansas coach. 'I told him he wasn't a point guard, that hopefully after being at Kansas awhile he could develop into one, but I couldn't promise him he'd be a point guard.
'We thought we'd lost him (as a recruit). But a short time after that, he came to us and said we were truthful with him, and he was going to come anyway.'
Seven games into his college career, Pritchard was Kansas' starting shooting guard. The next season, he moved to point guard and helped Danny Manning lead the Jayhawks to the NCAA championship - but not before enduring the wrath of his taskmaster coach.
'You know how hard Larry can be on a point guard,' says R.C. Buford, senior vice president and general manager of the San Antonio Spurs and then an assistant coach on Brown's Kansas staff. 'He abused the poor kid. Kevin was never a natural point guard, but he made himself into one.
'He was a little bit bullheaded, but he had great confidence and was a great competitor. Because of that, he succeeded to a level many people probably never would have dreamed.'
After playing his final two seasons at Kansas under Roy Williams, Pritchard was drafted in the second round by Golden State and spent four years as a backup guard in the NBA before finishing his career in the Continental Basketball Association and in Europe.
'Kevin was a big-time player for us,' says Williams, now North Carolina's coach. 'In all the years I've coached, there are two players I honest-to-goodness believe had a chance to be NBA players for 12 to 15 years but never were in the right place at the right time. Kevin is one of those.
'Had he been in the right place, he could have been a big-time NBA player, too. But he's done pretty well. He's one of only 30 guys doing what he's doing. He's succeeded greatly in spite of the time he had to spend with me.'
Pritchard, who turns 40 in July, is a product of the Kansas family of the late '80s. It includes Brown, the largely successful coach who now is executive vice president with the Philadelphia 76ers; Williams, who succeeded Brown at Kansas and this year will be enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame; Gregg Popovich, a Kansas assistant coach under Brown who has coached San Antonio to three NBA championships since 1999, and Buford, one of the league's most-respected executives.
Coaches act as role models
Pritchard has borrowed a little from each en route to becoming the youngest GM in the league.
'Coach Williams is one of the hardest workers I've ever been around,' Pritchard says. 'Very organized, very diligent - he prepares like nobody else. I hope I grabbed some of that from him. Coach Brown was the most disciplined guy. He has his basketball foundation; you can't get him off that. It's what he believes in, it's how he wants to play, and that's how you're going to play.
'Coach Pop has an unbelievable feel for when to be hard on guys, when to use tough love, and when to put his arm around a player. That's a great skill. R.C. taught me how to evaluate talent, which is so hard. He does a great job of identifying those masterpieces when others can't.'
After retiring as a player in 1998, Pritchard spent more than a year as a mutual funds manager and investment analyst.
'I was miserable,' he says.
For three seasons, he worked as a coach and executive in the American Basketball Association. Then Popovich and Buford hired him as a scout for the Spurs. After two years, he moved on to Portland, first as director of player personnel, then as assistant GM.
'Kevin has that hard-nosed approach, a great work ethic, a willingness to learn, a desire to win - traits that have been there since the first time I met him back in 1986,' Popovich says.
In 2000, when Pritchard was head coach and general manager of the ABA Kansas City Knights, he wrote on a sticky note: 'I'm going to be a GM in the NBA someday.'
Seven years later, Pritchard has arrived.
'He wasn't afraid to get his feet dirty along the way,' Buford notes.
Says Pritchard: 'I've worked my way up from the bottom. I feel like all my experiences up to now have gotten me here, prepared me for what I need to do to become a good GM.'
Spurs provide a model
In the coming weeks, Pritchard plans to hire an assistant GM, who will handle some administrative duties as well as help with talent evaluation; a director of pro personnel, who will observe NBA talent for potential trades, and a director of scouting, who will spearhead college and international talent evaluation.
'He's copying our model,' Buford says.
The central figure in the Blazers' war room a year ago during the draft that yielded Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez, Pritchard will continue to spearhead Portland's draft efforts. But now he will deal more with the current players, including Zach Randolph, whose propensity for off-court incidents conflicts with the franchise's vow that behavior and deportment will be as important as talent.
Pritchard already has had a meeting with Randolph, whom he has taken on as a personal project.
'We're trying to make him the best player and the best person we possibly can,' Pritchard says. 'I'm developing a better relationship with him. He's a 25-year-old kid. We're asking a lot of him. We've given him a lot. Sometimes kids need direction. That's my job right now, to make sure he has direction.
'Can he accept the responsibility of being a franchise player? I don't want him to feel like he has to shoulder that all himself. That's where I come in and help. If he turns out to be a great leader, which I expect he will, this team has a chance.'
Still, Pritchard isn't averse to trading Randolph if the right offer comes along.
He also might be willing to trade the Blazers' 2007 first-round pick 'if it makes a difference for us with an immediate-impact player like Houston did,' he says. 'Rudy Gay is going to be a really good player, but Shane Battier was a nice addition to a playoff team.'
The Kevin and Nate show
One of the big factors in Pritchard's immediate success will be his relationship with Coach Nate McMillan, who supported his hiring as GM.
They like and respect each other. But Pritchard leaves no doubt that he espouses an uptempo transition game that is the trend for many successful teams in the league. This year's Blazers are last in the league in fastbreak points, and McMillan seems to prefer a grinding, half-court game.
'Nate has said he wants to run, but you have to put the pieces in place and give him that opportunity,' Pritchard says. 'If we can build a team able to run, we'll run. He tells me he wants to run. I believe him. I don't think it will be (a conflict) at all.'
Members of Pritchard's old Kansas family figure owner Paul Allen made an intelligent hire.
'Kevin is conscientious, eager to learn - he's a special kid,' Brown says. 'He'll do great. Nobody will outwork him. He knows the league. He loves Portland. He's been with the Blazers through some interesting times. He has a great owner, and Kevin will work well with Nate. To me, that's the most important thing.'
'He'll be really solid,' Buford says. 'He's creative, forward-thinking, with a good feel for players - that's why I brought him into our organization six years ago. He's a leader with a great passion and desire to be successful.'
'I'm not surprised by Kevin's promotion,' Popovich says. 'It's a great choice. I'm thrilled for him. He'll just work diligently to do what needs to be done to produce wins, and he'll do it with class. That's what he's all about. I don't have any doubt over time he'll put together a program the city of Portland will be proud of.'
'When you have what I call the 'want to,' you have just about every base covered, and he has all those qualities - the complete package,' Williams says. 'I think Kevin is a guy who will be running NBA teams for the next 30 years, or until he decides to hang it up.'
Kevin Pritchard's father, Steve, has represented such artists as Merle Haggard, Roy Clark and the Judds as a country music agent; he's now semiretired and living in Florida.
Kevin didn't share his father's appreciation for that style of music growing up in Independence, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla.: 'I couldn't stand it. I'm not a country guy at all.'
• Sergio Rodriguez and LaMarcus Aldridge (health permitting) will participate with Portland's entry in the Las Vegas Summer League. Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack will not, as per agreement in their contract relating to minutes played this season.
'Brandon needs rest,' Pritchard says. 'Jarrett will work on his game; I'm not worried about that. I want to see Sergio get after it and show us he can run a team.'
Rodriguez also will be dealing with responsibilities with the Spanish national team's participation in the European Championships.
• Also expected to take part on Portland's summer-league entry is 6-11 Joel Freeland, the 20-year-old Brit who was taken with the 30th and last pick in the first round of last year's draft.
'He can shoot, run the floor and defend, but he's going to have to learn how to handle the ball better,' Pritchard says of Freeland, who played professionally in Spain this season.
Freeland's performance in Las Vegas will determine whether the Blazers bring him into training camp in October.
- Kerry Eggers