66ers finding success as Thunder affiliate
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, February 14, 2011
2/14/11 at 5:58 AM
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IF YOU DON'T like change, then coaching in the NBA Development League is not for you.
Nate Tibbetts looks at change a little differently than most coaches.
"I always tell our players that change is opportunity," said Tibbetts. "A lot of basketball is chemistry and execution and doing what you want to do.
"At our level, it is rare to not have change. So, that is what you get used to doing. Change is constant in our league."
Tibbetts is the coach of the Tulsa 66ers, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 66ers have bounced around to three different homes in recent years and have gone through ownership and affiliation changes.
But the most recent ownership change and affiliation move to be linked with the Thunder has worked wonders for the on-court success of the team.
The 66ers still have a tough time drawing fans for home games at the Tulsa Convention Center Arena.
However, Tulsa has been very successful as a team, tied for the West Conference lead even after losses to Utah on Friday and Saturday nights.
It would appear the success of the Thunder, one of the youngest and most successful teams in the NBA, is filtering down to the 66ers.
Former Kansas star Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens were assigned to Tulsa earlier this season from the Thunder.
Two 66ers, former Oral Roberts player Larry Owens (Spurs) and Zabian Dowdell (Suns), have been called up to the NBA this season. Owens is back with the 66ers, but Dowdell has remained with the Suns.
All of the comings and goings have just been a part of the job for Tibbetts.
"You only have 10 guys on a roster, so if you have a couple of guys go up or down then you might only have eight for practice," said Tibbetts. "No problem. You just do what you can to make it work."
Tibbetts has been making it work well enough that not only has his team been near the top of the standings all season but he's been selected to coach in the NBA Development League All-Star game on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Tibbetts, in his second year at Tulsa after four seasons with Sioux Falls, believes it is the close relationship with the Thunder that is making a huge difference for the 66ers.
"No question our affiliation with the Thunder has been very beneficial to us," said Tibbetts. "We use all of the same terminology and stuff as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We have brought the same mentality as the Oklahoma City Thunder here to the 66ers. Guys know it is their job to fill roles."
Tibbetts, his coaching staff and players spend a lot of time, when possible, in Oklahoma City.
Tibbetts said the 66ers have used the Thunder practice facility. When the 66ers' schedule allows, Tibbetts attends games and practices with the Thunder.
"I've learned so much from the Thunder coaching staff," said Tibbetts. "One of the big things is I want our guys to not guess what to expect. They all have a role to play and they hear it over and over and over again.
"Yes, we want to win. That's important. But it is also our job to help each player get better and learn how to be a pro."
The proximity between the 66ers and Thunder is a huge advantage. Only 90 miles separate the 66ers' practice gym from the Thunder facility. As a result, Tibbetts finds himself in constant contact with the Thunder.
"We always have a huge Thunder presence at our games and workouts," said Tibbetts. "I think that is a great thing for us. Oklahoma City has invested a lot in this franchise. They take a lot of pride in what we've done.
"They know who we are. It isn't like this is an Oklahoma City team and a Tulsa team. It is an extension of one organization."
66ers up next
At Sioux Falls
7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: KAKC am1300