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The underrated recruiting power of Kenny Atkinson

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Media Day Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

It was the single most recurring theme at Media Day among the Nets new additions: they liked what they saw from Kenny Atkinson and wanted to play for him. Beyond the appear of home and the power of the big city, it was Atkinson who Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan kept turning to.

Here’s what Durant said him when asked at his press conference Friday. He didn’t feel he needed to meet with the Nets head coach before he agreed to sign. He had already seen a lot of him ... on YouTube.

“I was doing a lot of You Tube research on Kenny Atkinson and watching interviews seeing how he talked after the game. I really liked his approach to his craft as a coach. That drew me in pretty quickly. I didn’t really do too much research on other coaches. I guess you always have to learn that.

“But once I started getting comfortable how he coaches his craft, it started to make me feel at ease even though I never had a conversation with him. I could just see it through You Tube and clips that he was pretty genuine about the game. Obviously, I talked with Kyrie and then watching the team and knowing Caris and all that stuff kind of combined at once.

“Obviously, being from the East Coast, it was something I was really excited about. I’ve played most of my basketball in the Midwest or the West Coast, so I was excited about playing just a few hours from home (in Baltimore). All that stuff played a factor when I thought about it all, but basketball was probably the main thing.”

He then followed that up with an interview on the YES Network set, telling Sarah Kustok and Ryan Ruocco much the same and added how much he appreciated what the fourth year coach did for the team’s younger players.

“I felt he was a hands-on coach with his younger players. I’ve seen all these guys get better over the years and Kenny started off as a development guy and to see his rise to a head coach, i know how hard that is.

“So I know how much work it takes to become successful as a head coach, win your first playoff game ... get to the playoffs and just create an atmosphere here, I was really impressed and I wanted to be part of it.”

He was not alone in that assessment. As Brian Lewis points out, both Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan among others said very positive things about their new coach ... as did lesser free agents like David Nwaba. They watched the games and played the games against Atkinson’s teams. But overall, they liked how genuine he is.

“Kenny’s known for telling it like it is, which I appreciate,” said Irving, who Atkinson accompanied to the doctor’s following Tuesday’s facial fracture.

“You’ve got to go,” Atkinson shrugged when asked why. “It’s no great Mother Teresa moment, it’s just something you do.”

Atkinson is known to be quite enamored of Irving, both as a player and a person. Here’s what he said Friday about their relationship...

“It’s been as good as it can be. I think the offseason is a great time to get to know not only the player but the person. I think it’s a slow process, a building process. But I’m really pleased where it is right now. Again, it’s early, we’ve had great basketball conversations, but maybe more importantly great life conversations.”

Jordan likes Atkinson’s competitiveness.

“Kenny’s a very hard-nosed guy,” Jordan added of Atkinson. “He’s from this area, so he’s tough. And he’s a super competitor. You want that kind of coach.”

Atkinson knows he’ll face pressure this year. And it’s no secret that he loved coaching last year’s surprise playoff team. Coaching a contender is something new for a guy whose main credentials has revolved around developing players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris and rehabilitating the career of D’Angelo Russell.

On the other hand, Atkinson was the lead assistant to Mike Budenholzer when the Hawks won 60 games the year before he took the Nets job.

“What I learned from him is to really challenge your best players, be direct with them, coach them harder than you coach anybody else on the team,” Atkinson said of Budenholzer now with the Bucks. “I do think it’s part of my personality. I don’t mind conflict and telling guys what I see.

“Personally I think that’s how guys want to be coached.”

Durant and Irving, of course, have reputations of being their own guys, demanding, not mincing any words whether it’s dealing with teammates or coaches. Atkinson thinks he can handle it.

“You have to be yourself. You have to be authentic. If you’re not authentic they’ll see through that, then you’re in trouble,” Atkinson told Lewis.

“It’ll be interesting. We’ll see when the film sessions start coming. … We’ll go through some rough times with all the players. You go through two, three days without talking to a player because they’re mad, then you get over it, and then you become closer. That’s how relationships build. But I’m not afraid of that, the conflict.”

Of course, he’s already gotten more than halfway. He got the superstars to join him in Brooklyn.