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Max Good was head basketball coach at Maine Central Institute in 1998 when he picked up a new player at the airport.
The kid’s name was Caron Butler, a brash, confident, ultra-talented guard from Wisconsin who arrived at the prep school with as much attitude as skill, having been arrested 15 times before the age of 15 and having discovered his love for the game while serving time at a detention center for firearms and cocaine possession.
“I asked him how many bags he had,” Good recalls. “He said, ‘Four.’ I said, ‘Good, then you will only need two trips to the car.’ It had been a really long trip for him, flying all over to get there, but on the way back to school, I stopped for something to eat and didn’t buy him anything. Within three days, his behavior had completely changed and he was on his way and has now played (12 years) in the NBA and is a model citizen.
“More and more, kids need discipline from the standpoint that we’re creating little monsters. Discipline has never been a problem for me at any level. There is such a sense of entitlement with kids today — they don’t realize playing college basketball is a privilege and not their right. They all think they’re going to the NBA. They need a reality check.”
Good was hired this week as a special assistant to UNLV head coach Dave Rice, bringing to the Rebels a veteran presence the team has desperately needed since Rice assumed control of the program in 2011.
More than anything, Rice reaching out to Good is a sign of maturation in UNLV’s coach, a significant step in the right direction of Rice realizing there are critical areas in which he needs to improve.
His has not been the most disciplined program on or off the court. It certainly hasn’t been one lauded for its in-game coaching and adjustments. Rice has won 71 games in three seasons, highly impressive until you consider UNLV has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game under him and last season failed to even reach the madness.
He has recruited to a level rivaled by few nationally, in large part to his own strengths when pursuing talent and the fact all of the assistants he has hired until now owned reputations far more for their ability in a living room than drawing X’s and O’s on a board.
Many would suggest that’s the reality of college basketball in 2014, that a head coach’s primary job is to stockpile as much talent as he can and hope things like chemistry and continuity and actual coaching rise to a winning level. It has to a point for UNLV, but not in the month that matters most.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t in one breath praise UNLV’s talent and recruiting under Rice and then not question how and to whom the Rebels have lost certain games. As soundly as UNLV’s staff has beaten its opponents on the recruiting trail, it has often been totally overmatched between the benches.
Good, then, is a different and smart hire. He isn’t allowed to coach players directly, but can deal with them on things such as academics and discipline and accountability. He can offer any and all coaching advice to the staff — scouting opponents, devising game plans, suggesting changes and adjustments during timeouts and at halftime. He will be on the bench. That’s huge.
It doesn’t guarantee UNLV will make any more of an impact in March or finally win an outright Mountain West title, but it’s true that experience is the teacher of all things. Good has a ton of it to impart.
He’s extremely fond of Rice. Has a history with him. Good will say all the right things about just wanting to fit in, but his presence and experience and opinion is sorely needed.
“I don’t think David hired me for just window dressing, because I’m not much of a window-dressing person,” Good said. “I think I can help in some small way. I love David. He’s very bright, very intelligent. I believe he will be among the elite coaches in the country.
“Las Vegas is a very demanding town. I don’t think things were as dire with the team as some made them out to be last season. I think when they lost games, they probably just missed shots. When they won games, they made shots. I don’t think the issues are as big as many believe.
“I love basketball. I have a very hard time without it. I’m bad at golf. I’m 73, and when I’m 93, I’ll still be coaching, even if it’s for an elementary school somewhere in Louisiana. But right now, I’m not just excited about this opportunity. I’m ecstatic.”
Dave Rice is maturing as a head coach.
Case in point, Max Good is in the fold.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.