One of Tony Delk's favorite memories from his 10-year NBA career was the time he scored a career-high 53 points for the Phoenix Suns, but his favorite memories as a basketball player take him back to his college days at Kentucky, where he won a national title in 1996.
Delk now finds himself back in the college game as an assistant coach for New Mexico State, which is how he wound up making his first visit to Alaska last week for the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
"The weather hasn't been as cold as I thought it would be," said Delk, who enjoyed some outdoor walks during his stay in Anchorage.
Delk was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round (16th overall pick) of the 1996 NBA draft. At 6-foot-1, Delk said he never really settled into a designated position for any of the seven professional teams he played for, but he thinks the constant efforts he made to find ways to contribute helped him gravitate toward coaching.
"I started seeing the game through the eyes of a coach," he said.
This is Delk's first season as an assistant with the Aggies, a job he acquired with the help of an old friend. Walter McCarty played with Delk on the 1996 national championship team at Kentucky and also enjoyed a 10-year NBA career. McCarty, who is in his third year as an assistant coach with Louisville, heard of an opening at New Mexico State and helped Delk set up an interview with the team last summer.
Delk, who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant with Kentucky, said the most challenging thing about coaching is handling all the different personalities that make up a team and trying to get them all on the same page.
"Managing men and managing young men," he said. "You're kind of like their dad away from home."
Within the next two or three years, Delk hopes to be a head college coach.
"I'm learning a lot and when the time comes to be a head coach, I'll be ready," he said.
Delk thinks young American basketball players lack many of the fundamentals that made previous generations great, mostly because today's young players have more games than they do practices.
"It's just from one tournament to another tournament," he said.
Delk wants to do his part to pass on fundamentals that helped him flourish. He wants to teach them to get the most out of their skills so they can provide depth to any team's roster. A lot of players don't realize the importance of being a role player, he said.
New Mexico State senior Wendell McKines said the Aggies look up to Delk because of his experience and accomplishments. They all have the dream of making it to the NBA and Delk tries to let them know what kind of effort it takes to get there. "He wants to give us his knowledge," McKines said. "We're all like sponges, asking question after question, picking his brain."
Preseason tournaments like the Shootout are a tremendous help toward developing a team, Delk said, in part because three games in four days helps players learn the importance of playing great defense, because offensive output can be streaky.
"Some nights you're gonna miss shots and some nights you're gonna make 'em," Delk said.
Delk's 53-point game for the Suns in 2001 illustrates the streaky nature of offense. He more than doubled his previous career-high of 26 points in that game, hitting 20 of 27 shots from the field.
Delk said there was added satisfaction in the performance because it came against Sacramento, the team he played for prior to Phoenix.
"Nothing personal," he said, "but it felt good."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.