After a slow start, the Delaware 87ers have played well as of late, winning six of their last 11 games to improve to 10-14. Trades, injuries and call-ups have made things more than a little difficult for Sevens' head coach Kevin Young this season, but he's slowly finding a way to deal with the nuances of the D-League. In this exclusive interview, Young discusses his first year in the main chair on the 87ers' bench.
Liberty Ballers: With all of the injuries, trades and other roster moves that you've had, has it been to get into a groove as far as lineups and rotations are concerned?
Sevens' Head Coach Kevin Young: "Yeah, it's been tricky. I mean, that's one of the hardest things to do in this league, be it injuries, call-ups... there are a lot of different reasons that your roster gets shaken up. But I think we've found a little bit of a rhythm the past couple of games with rotations and stuff like that which is helpful."
LB: We're at the halfway point in the schedule, and the team has gotten off to a better start this year as opposed to last season. What do you think is the biggest difference between then and now?
Young: "I think that just overall, from an organizational standpoint, we've had just a lot more of a runway this year to get ready for the season. Both from putting the team together and putting the staff together... to spending time with the 76ers' staff. So it's a lot more continuity leading up to the season that I think has helped everybody."
LB: When speaking to Coach [Rod] Baker last year, he mentioned that he spoke to Sixers' coach Brett Brown on a fairly regular basis. Do you get a chance to talk to Coach Brown and the rest of the Sixers' staff at all during the year?
Young: "It's harder during the year. I mean, we'll text and things like that, and I'll spend time with the coaches when I go up there to some of their games. But we're aware of what they're doing, and they're aware of what we're doing, and Brandon Williams, our GM, is kind of the middleman, so he's a key factor in the communication between us and them."
LB: Speaking of the Sixers, do you try to model your offensive and defensive schemes and philosophy to be in line with what they do?
Young: "Defensively? Absolutely. We try to use the exact same model. Offensively, kind of by design, we try to tweak some things, mess around with different alignments and stuff like that. I've talked with Coach Brown and said, 'Hey... we made this little wrinkle off of what you guys are doing'... It makes for some good communication between us and them - there's stuff we can try and if it's something we like, we can pass it on to them."
LB: You spent time with the coaching staff in the summer, where you had a chance to work with Sean Kilpatrick out in the Vegas Summer League. For those who aren't familiar with his game, what kind of things can we expect to see from him?
Young: "I mean, he's tough... that's the biggest thing that I like about him. He's a tough young man, he's a guy who kind of has some natural leadership instincts. It's actually really hard to find guys who have that naturally in them, you know? Some guys, you think that they're leaders because they played at this school or that school, they were a point guard here, an All-American there... At the end of the day, you can't really fake leadership - you either have it or you don't. I think he's a guy who has it, so that's something that we liked about him. And then his ability to be another playmaking guard for us is something that we lacked a little bit. And I think last game [January 23 vs. Maine], he had five assists. He missed a couple of shots, but he was able to give us a spark from that playmaking standpoint."
LB: Another one of your guards - D.J. Seeley - has emerged as one of the best three-point shooters in the D-League. What does a weapon like that do for the rest of your offense?
Young: "It really gives us a little bit more freedom. He's good because he can shoot, but he's also cerebral enough to find guys once he's playing off pick-and-roll. It makes my job a little bit easier when we're struggling, and you know you can get a guy the ball and most of the time, something good is going to happen... He's been pretty clutch really, in the fourth quarters and overtime, putting the ball in his hands and having him make plays for us, so it's been good."
LB: Speaking of guards, Malcolm Lee is someone who has a pretty decent amount of NBA experience. What kind of effect can a player like that have in the locker room with a team as young as yours, especially as it comes to being a professional?
Young: "He's been there, he's been on that level, and I think he's hungry to get back to that point and it's kind of been infectious with the rest of the group. He's another guy who doesn't get rattled a ton because he has been in some other situations at a higher level. And you like that at the guard position."
LB: You face a lot of high-powered offenses in this league such as the Texas Legends and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Is it hard preparing for each game when you're going against a different type of offense each night?
Young: "It's interesting to see what the D-League has kind of evolved into. When I first got into the league as a young guy eight years ago, every team was kind of running the same stuff. Now, you're seeing a lot of contrasting styles, but I think it's great. I think it's great for the game, I think it's great for players and coaches to have to get used to different things like that. And in fairness, our guys have done a good job of guarding the teams that shoot 40-50 3s per game, and being able to adjust to teams that are a little bit more oriented to shooting 2s or getting to the basket. Tonight [versus Texas] is another night where we've really go to guard the paint versus last game against Maine where they shot 43 threes against us. So we've got to be able to switch gears."
LB: This is your first season as a head coach on this level - what's the biggest thing that you've learned so far?
Young: "Having been in the D-League before, you know that the biggest thing that any coach has to deal with is the change, the constant change. Being able to keep it simple, find whatever your pillars are, and rely on those pillars and try not to vary too far from that. Because you can find yourself as a coach... we all have creative minds - or at least we think we do, anyway - and sometimes, that can kind of get in your own way.
"I've found that maybe early on, we were trying to do a bit too much. And then we started to limit our packages offensively, and I think that's helped the guys get a little bit more comfortable. And then when you get a new guy like Jared [Cunningham] or Sean or Joonas [Caven], you can plug those guys in and you only have to teach them a smaller playbook, so to speak, instead of teaching them eight million different variations. And you can spend that time teaching those guys how to play basketball and not how to run plays. I think that's something that we've really tried to focus in on over the last month or two, and I think it's paid off for us a little bit offensively."