Before Gregg Popovich cemented himself as the greatest coach of all time, before he set the NBA record for most wins as a head coach, before he became the most interesting man in the league, and before he even took his spot as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, he was an elite college basketball player.
This should come as no surprise. Most of the NBA’s coaches played ball at some level in college, and some even had excellent NBA careers. Pop never suited up for an NBA team, but he embodied what it meant to be a “hooper” during the 1969-1970 Air Force Academy season.
Gregg Popovich excelled at the college level
Apparently, there is a difference between a hooper and a basketball player. According to G-League star Rashad Phillips, I could guess that a hooper is fun to watch while a basketball player wins games. Looks like Duncan was a basketball player, not a hooper.
Oh well. Duncan was also a five-time champion.
In his second season with the AFA Falcons, Popovich went to work. He posted 14.3 points on 60% shooting from the floor and averaged 4.5 rebounds. It’s insane that he’s been in the game longer than recorded assists and led his team to a respectable 12-12 record. He has since been enshrined in the Air Force Athletics Hall of Fame.
Popovich was the original Marcus Smart
The fact that Pop, a 6’2” guard, was able to post four and a half rebounds and make an absurd 60% of his shots is astounding. In fact, if you look at the numbers of all the current Spurs, the only player who managed to post a better college stat line than 14.2/4.5/60% is Jakob Poeltl, and he was All-American that year.
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much college tape on Coach Pop still out there, but during Olympic practice, he was putting on the jets 50 years later.
He’s not beating Ja Morant to the rim, but it looks like he can still keep up on defense and hustle when he needs to. After his success in college, Pop was offered a try-out for the 1972 Olympic team, which is more than Trae Young has accomplished.
When Pop is pacing the sidelines, huffy and irritated from the way his young group has been playing, maybe he should consider lacing up. If we turn back time, he’d be the best player on the roster.