by Fred Kerber
New York Post (Not Online)
Published December 23, 2006
It's not quite Miss Crabtree teaching the kindergarten class, but the likes of Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson have been full-time teachers, mentors and instructors to a very youthful bench this season.
Like after the 113-111 victory over Cleveland on Wednesday, Kidd noted of Carter's efforts with a young group around him that helped turn the game with a fourth-quarter surge.
"He was the dad out there," Kidd said of Carter. "He kept the kids under control. He put the kids in position to be successful."
"Well, I don't know if he's 'Dad,' " laughed Mikki Moore, "but I see what he [Kidd] means. Me and Vince and Eddie [House], when we're out there with the young guys, we try to point them in the right direction."
Results are materializing. In the eight games before last night's Meadowlands meeting with the Lakers, the Nets' bench outscored the opponents' reserves by five points a game, 33.1 to 28.1. But it's more than just points. The kids are starting to get it.
"We are a team so it's not about one group versus the other group," coach Lawrence Frank said of the bench, "but they've done a great job. One, they're always ready to go. Two, it seems like in many of our games, whether it's a win or a loss, that it's a different guy stepping up."
Rookie Marcus Williams has played from Day 1. Hassan Adams finally won Frank's trust and has become a rotation regular.
"Hassan has earned his time," Carter said.
Josh Boone was hurt and still is working his way into a job. And Mile Ilic is simply learning the ropes. So of the four rookies, two play. But there is more youth. Antoine Wright, who was sent home from yesterday's morning workout because of a virus, is in his second year. Bostjan Nachbar has only really played one full season. So any and all guidance by vets is invaluable.
"Everybody has been great," said Adams. "Richard [Jefferson] I've known since high school, and he's been a big mentor at each level.
And J-Kidd, Vince have been the same way. They're like brothers in the sense they want you to be successful.
They want you to get it and get it early. They don't want you waiting around, say 'til next year. They want you to get it now to help." Valid point. The Nets vets have known success, so none of them are looking over their shoulders.
There is no insecurity among the starters. For the reserves, there is a healthy competition.
"Everybody knows what they have to do on the court and they know that if they don't play good, another guy is going to come in," Moore, shooting .682 in his sub role, said of the bench. "That's the big thing. You get your minutes but they're threatened by the next guy on the bench because everybody on the bench can play. Last year, they didn't have confidence in some guys so certain guys knew they were always going to play.
"Now certain guys thrive off one another. It's not anything negative toward one another like, 'Oh, you've got my minutes' or 'I'm going to take your minutes.' Everybody wants to see each other succeed." All for one and one for all and all that. And the grizzled guys, like the ancient 29-year-old Carter - hey, he turns 30 next month (think he remembers Lincoln?) - have enjoyed the guiding part.
"Oh yeah," Carter said. "When we're out there with that group, be leaders. Lead them, direct them. Tell them, 'Don't be afraid to step up,' because they're good. They just need some direction out there."