For some, the game never ends. There is always one more critique. Or one more discussion.
For Jamelle McMillan, it came with his father, Nate, coach of the SuperSonics.
Both had basketball games Tuesday night. The Sonics beat the Lakers, but Jamelle’s O’Dea High School team lost to Seattle Prep, the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state.
Some fathers can’t offer much insight into their sons’ sport, but Nate McMillan can offer plenty. “This is what I do,” he said. “I may not be able to tell him a lot about computers, but I definitely know this game.”
And so they talked basketball late into the night. A father and his son. A coach and a player.
A former coach waited in the hallway outside the Sonics’ locker room so he could talk with one of his former players after the game. Rob Ridnour had driven down from his home in Blaine to watch the Sonics and one player in particular. His son, Luke, is the team’s starting point guard.
Father and son may or may not have discussed the game. That would have been up to Luke. That’s one thing Rob has learned over the years. He lets his son take the initiative.
“I’m always criticizing his shot,” Rob said with a laugh.
It’s hard not to. Until Luke went away to college, he and Rob lived under the same roof, the player and the coach. Basketball was always there, always present, like the air they breathed.
A father with Rob’s knowledge would have been remiss not to offer some criticism, some advice, some help to his son.
Rob, however, didn’t pressure Luke to play the game. Again, Luke was the initiator, but the environment had a heavy basketball feel from the time he was a young boy.
“Anytime I would take him to a game, he’d sit on my lap the whole game,” Rob said. “How many 5-year-olds will do that?”
Luke staked his own “ownership” on the game. “I didn’t take him to the gym,” Rob emphasized. “He did that on his own.”
Luke would spend hundreds of hours playing basketball by himself in the gym. When he got to high school, the coach – his dad – finally gave him a key to the place.
It was like giving most kids a key to a computer store.
Rob coached Luke all four years at Blaine High School, winning two state championships. The only “conflict” the two ever had was over shots. Rob felt Luke didn’t take enough of them, averaging only 13 a game his junior year. “I’ve always been a guy who likes to pass,” Luke said after practice the other day. “I could always score, so I got more joy out of seeing other people score.”
He still does, though he understands he can’t get by in the NBA just passing the ball to others all the time. And in the last couple of games, his shot hasn’t been dropping through the net as much as he’d like. He was 1-for-11 in a loss to Boston over the weekend and 1-for-6 in the win over the Lakers.
Yet because of his adroit passing and ballhandling, he played a big role in the LA game, dishing out 11 assists, six in the first quarter when the Sonics raced out to a 32-23 lead. “That was a helluva job, coming out in the first quarter and getting his two leading scorers shots in their comfort zones,” said Ray Allen, who combined with Rashard Lewis for 26 points in the first 12 minutes. “He (Ridnour) did his job tonight. He did a great job.
“If he can do that for us every night, he’ll be acknowledged as one of the best point guards in this league. To not have any lingering effects from the last (Boston) game (was big).”
Nobody knows Ridnour’s shot like his father, but Luke wasn’t quite ready to consult with him. “Not yet,” he said. “I know it’s going to come.”
After missing his first five shots against the Lakers, he hit a 17-foot jumper. Then balled his fists and gave a little pump. “It felt good,” he said.
The next day, after the formal practice was over, he stayed and shot. And shot. And shot. A not unordinary thing for a coach’s kid to do.
“They don’t mind being in the gym,” McMillan said, “because they’ve been there all their lives.”
He has two coaches’ kids on his team, the other being Nick Collison, who was the No. 12 pick in the first round of the 2003 draft, two spots in front of Ridnour. They have more in common than the proverbial “gym-rat” tag.
“Even when you talk to them, they respond differently,” McMillan said. “They’ve heard the criticism from their dads so when I talk to them, you can see they’re really in tune with what we’re trying to do. They’ll just give me a little gesture to let me know they understand.”
The difficulty for a father who is or was a coach is watching his son struggle. Or be ill used.
Rob Ridnour felt that Oregon coach Ernie Kent restrained Luke’s style of play his freshman year. “He had a string on him,” Rob said. “He never let him play and go.”
Most coaches at the end of a season discuss with each player what he needs to do to improve his game and any other issues that need to be considered. “I give Ernie a lot of credit,” the elder Ridnour said. “He lets his players voice their feelings.”
Luke voiced his. “I was proud of Lucas,” Rob said. “He told it like it was.”
Given the freedom to run, Luke as a sophomore helped lead the Ducks to a Pac-10 title and a berth in the Elite 8. And Kent won league Coach of the Year honors.
Now Ridnour is making an impression with his strong floor play for the Sonics, averaging six assists and only 1.59 turnovers a game in his first year as a fulltime starter.
“The potential is very good but he’s still learning what this team needs for him to do out on the floor,” said McMillan, who might be a little more critical of a point guard because that was the position he played. “I think the main thing is this is his team, (and he has to) find a way to put his stamp on it. I think the good point guards have that identity.”
In the Boston game, Ridnour ran up against a future Hall of Famer, ex-Sonic Gary Payton, and didn’t have a good performance. Payton, meanwhile, still a popular figure with Sonics fans, had an exceptional game, and McMillan was asked if there might have been a Payton effect on Ridnour.
“You’re the starting guard … at a position that a Hall of Famer once held and that Hall of Famer is in your gym and is playing against you,” McMillan mused. “You could think about that a little bit.”
Ridnour says he didn’t. “Just one of those games,” he said.