The wildest man in March Madness may be Eric Musselman, who once coached a CBA team in West Palm Beach

There are too many crazy stories in the NCAA tournament to track right now but here’s one with a strong tie to West Palm Beach and a bit of a loose cannon at the center of it.

Nevada’s coach, the one who has the Wolf Pack in Atlanta for a Thursday night Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola-Chicago, is Eric Musselman. He’s 5-feet-7 and celebrates big wins like his team’s upsets of Texas and Cincinnati by screaming and shouting and jumping around like a grade-schooler on a trampoline,

NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 18: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack directs his team against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

which makes for great television. Oh, and he frequently rips his shirt off, too, during locker room celebrations, which is a little more dangerous for television because that’s when the coach has been known to launch into wild-eyed speeches that are best bleeped out altogether.

If any of this rings a bell, perhaps you were here 20 years ago when Musselman coached the Florida Beachdogs of the old Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA was around for more than 60 years and served as a feeder system for the NBA until the big league came up with development teams of its own in 2002. Phil Jackson once coached in the CBA, and so did George Karl and Flip Saunders and Bill Musselman, Eric’s dad.

Bill Musselman coached everywhere, the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA, and for a time was filled in as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980’s when Chuck Daly got fired there.

At the age of 5 Eric famously brought the house down with a pregame display of dribbling and ballhandling at the University of Minnesota, where his dad was the head coach. By 24, Eric was the general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA, and he made half a dozen trades on his first day of work.

In 1996 the Thrillers moved from South Dakota to West Palm Beach, where Boca Raton businessman Rick Rochon set about spending millions of dollars trying to make the franchise a success. His coach was Eric Musselman, then in his early 30’s, and he prepared his Beachdogs for games against the Yakima Sun Kings and the Fort Wayne Fury and the Grand Rapids Hoops with the kind of intensity that other men bring to the NBA Finals.

It was never going to work here. South Florida has always been too much of a major-league market to go for minor-league sports other than baseball, which doesn’t draw well but has the industry’s full backing.

Besides, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, where the Beachdogs played their home games, was being prepared to be sold by the city. There were no plans to build a replacement, and in the years since the old auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard has been spruced up and put to use as a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly center.

All the same, Musselman put together an ever-changing roster of players from the various pro leagues around the world and got the Beachdogs to the best-of-seven CBA championship series in 1997. Home attendance averaged 2,898 that season, or at least that’s the number the team announced, and there were fewer than that on hand when the Oklahoma City Cavalry won the title in Game 6 by a score of 92-82.

There were no more Beachdogs games after that. Musselman was preparing to leave for Uruguay and an assistant coaching gig with one of USA Basketball’s youth teams when he got the news that Rochon was pulling the plug after reportedly losing $4 million as the team’s owner.

It seems, however, that Daly, the Hall of Fame coach, had caught a few Beachdogs games as an offseason Palm Beach County resident and he struck up a relationship with Musselman. He asked Eric to come along as a scout with the Orlando Magic, the team that Daly was coaching at the time, and from there other opportunities came.

In 2002, Musselman became the NBA’s youngest head coach at the time, taking over the Golden State Warriors at the age of 37. A few years later, after that fizzled, he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Since 2015 he has been at Nevada, rebuilding a program for NCAA tournament readiness, but those days in the CBA, where he earned an overall record of 270-122, are not forgotten.

“It turned out West Palm Beach was the perfect place for me at that time,” Musselman said in a 2002 Palm Beach Post story that marked his first NBA head coaching job. “Without going to West Palm Beach, I don’t think I’d ever have met Chuck Daly, who had a house in Jupiter. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have ended up in Orlando, and I probably would still be coaching in the minor leagues.”

Several career rebuilds later, he is trying to get Nevada into the Elite Eight for the first time. Musselman still has the passion, just like his late father.

It was Bill Musselman who famously said “Defeat is worse than death. You have to live with defeat.”

[Amendola joins long list of Texas Tech tough guys to join Dolphins]

[Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives athletes freedom to open up]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

 

Key to Heat’s rebuilding season will be handling teams like the Kings

“We should play like that every game,” Goran Dragic said Sunday after the Miami Heat pushed hard in a 106-99 loss to regal San Antonio.

If they do, they will win all the games that they should win and surprise a few of the elite teams along the way.

Miami Heat's Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after a leg injury in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after leg cramps struck the center against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

Tonight’s home game with Sacramento qualifies as one that Miami needs to get in order to keep on pace with any kind of distant postseason fantasy. The Kings missed the playoffs last year at 33-49 and have a 14-game losing streak at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Won’t be easy, though, for Heat big man Hassan Whiteside or anyone else.

Last Thursday Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 37 points and 16 rebounds in a 102-94 loss to the Spurs.

Whiteside also was great against the Spurs on Sunday, matching a career-high of 27 points and adding his usual 15 rebounds, but the Spurs rested LaMarcus Aldridge that night. Cousins didn’t get that break when he played San Antonio.

Maybe the best way to do this is to carve up the schedule into pieces.

Miami plays seven playoff teams from last year in the month of November and seven that didn’t qualify. An 8-6 record against that group would be great. To get only five or six wins, on the other hand, would be pretty discouraging since coach Erik Spoelstra is going all out for victories this time of year. The better teams can afford to put it into overdrive later.

[Is FSU over USF the best college football win in our state so far?]

[Unless you’re smarter than me, predicting Dolphins is a coin flip this year]

[Tough recognizing America the last time Indians or Cubs won World Series]

Consider this pregame quote from Sunday when Spo was told that Gregg Popovich would be resting Aldridge and Danny Green against the Heat. Long-term maintenance only.

“Well, we won’t be resting tonight,” said Spo, who got 39 minutes out of Justise Winslow and 35 from Whiteside. ”We know well enough that they can have guys out and it really does not matter.”

File this away, meanwhile, under encouraging signs for the 1-2 Heat.

Dragic scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, really asserting his leadership. That hasn’t been the case in the past against the Spurs. His career average against San Antonio was only 9.0 points coming into this game.

Also, Winslow just missed his career high for points. He scored 18 against the Spurs, two short of the 20 he scored as a rookie against Denver last March.

“That is about as many calories as you can burn in a 39-minute game,” said Spo, “because you’re going up against an MVP-caliber player (Kawhi Leonard). You have to defend and get through all the screens, and on the other end he is required to make a lot of plays.

“He has great maturity for a young player.”