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Terrific Trio

To truly understand the dynamic between Sydney coach Andrew Gaze and his right-hand men, it’s necessary to rewind back to early 1992. Gaze was the celebrated star of the Melbourne Tigers, Dean Vickerman was the team’s feisty backup guard, while a fast-talking American named Lanard Copeland had just arrived in town as the club’s new import after a stint with the Philadelphia 76ers. Vickerman recalls that Copeland and Gaze instantly connected and it was obvious they enjoyed playing together. But it was Copeland’s tell-it-like-it-is philosophy that formed the basis of their pair’s unique friendship and Vickerman says nothing has changed now that he and Copeland are working closely with Gaze as Kings assistant coaches. “That’s one of the great things about Copes’ relationship with Drewy,” Vickerman said. “I was playing on that team with them when Copes first came in, and that’s something he was really good at. Some people would shy away from that with Lindsay [Gaze] as the coach, but Lanard always held him accountable and gave him some s***, and he does that as an assistant coach as well and speaks what he sees and lets Andrew know. “There’s a good honesty about our communication and we’re all good that way. We’re having the good, hard conversations that you need to have, and just holding each other accountable.” Sydney’s owners and management team have assembled an enviable playing roster, a fact of which Gaze and his assistants are very aware. They knew when they took over this season that the expectation to succeed would always be hovering above their heads, especially after last year’s dismal 6-22 campaign. The results thus far - Sydney have won five straight and are on top of the ladder - have made Gaze sleep a little easier, but he believes the competition is far too even for the Kings to start patting each other on the backs. “Our owner and our administration are really supportive of what we’re trying to do,” Gaze said. “They’ve provided our team with resources that many teams don’t have. We’ve got a real privileged environment here. “They’ve invested a lot, and their passion and their workload and their commitment they have to getting things done is just extraordinary. “It’s tough to deal with that pressure, just because of the level of the commitment they have made. For me and the players, we have a strong sense of obligation to honour that commitment and do the very best we can. So that does bring about some pressure, because you want to reward them for their efforts, and the way they get rewarded is by us having success on the floor.” Defensive specialist Vickerman has vast experience in the NBL coaching ranks, while Copeland, like Gaze, is a rookie. Gaze calls the shots but doesn’t mind entrusting Copeland and Vickerman with plenty of opportunities to have their say. “I’ve known Dean and Lanard a long time and that made it a bit easier, but I think it was a little frustrating initially for them, because at the start it wasn’t like we had clearly defined roles,” he said. “We spoke in broad terms about what we’re going to be focusing on, but it’s really just evolved, rather than specifically getting into the fine details of what their roles may be. So that was probably a little challenging for both Dean and Lanard to figure out how they’ll contribute and how it all comes together. “It’s still a work in progress. You have some broader responsibility and what your role might be, but when you get into the detail of it all, that’s where it evolves.” Copeland said the coaches meet daily and believes their respective roles have gradually become more clear-cut. “The three of us have known each other for a very long time, but we’d never coached together so we’re finding our way and finding out how we can help each other,” Copeland said. “We know Drewy’s the man and he knows it. He’s a perfectionist, he drives it. He’d be at home thinking it the night before. “We come in and meet every morning to talk about what we need to work on at practice. The good thing is he’ll ask your opinion. He’s not one to just go out and do it his way. He’ll ask for opinions and then he’ll decide what’s best for the ball club, and that’s been working for us. “Deano brings a lot of experience and some of his defensive strategies have been amazing for us. “We’re all learning from each other. I learn stuff from them every day, and I think I sort of bring that street smarts about certain aspects of the game. We’re all doing our part and it’s been good so far - touch wood.” Vickerman’s influence is evident in Sydney’s ability to consistently disrupt opposing offences. “I’ve really gone about what I did as an assistant coach before with New Zealand and Singapore and other places,” he said. “I’ve just tried to set my tone for how we scout teams and what’s the process we try and get done every game. I’ve taken that on and how we present everything. I always ask the players for feedback but right now we’re sitting at a good point defensively. “We’ve got some people who lead the league in steals and blocked shots, because we’ve got guys with great length and we give them a system. It’s a little unique to this team compared to other teams I’ve coached before. “It was pretty early with [Kings import] Greg [Whittington] where we thought he could lead the league in steals with his anticipation and length. “Then you’ve got [guard] Kevin [Lisch] who’s always been a high-level defender and has that ability to steal the basketball as well. [Forward Brad] Newley has that quickness and he does gamble a little bit, but his gambles have been more calculated as the season’s gone along. “We’ve assessed that’s one of the strengths of the group so we want to let them go and take some chances.” Vickerman said Sydney’s coaching staff has its own expectations and tries to avoid weighing himself down with those of others. “I’ve never worried about that anyway,” he said. “The owners were good enough to give us a budget to put together a good, talented team. When you’ve got talent it’s partly on the coaching staff to make them succeed. We feel that pressure to make sure a talented group plays to their potential and if we can do that we’ve got a good chance.”                          
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