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Dick Harmon: Mark Madsen goes quickly to NBA creds at introduction as Utah Valley’s new head coach

SHARE Dick Harmon: Mark Madsen goes quickly to NBA creds at introduction as Utah Valley’s new head coach

OREM — Mark Madsen did what came naturally at his Monday press conference announcing his hire as Utah Valley University’s men's basketball coach.

Madsen spoke of the work ethic and attention to detail he saw perfected by Kobe Bryant. He described the iconic slippery eel move of Kevin McHale. He saluted Mark Pope — the coach he is replacing — and praised UVU legacy players as well as the current roster. He spoke of his ideas on recruiting, that he wanted to build a wall around Utah, seek players nationally and internationally. He spoke Spanish to the Hispanic community and described his passion to be a Wolverine.

Madsen sold it hard. Just like Pope did a week earlier when he was introduced as BYU's new coach.

In short, listening to these two guys, Utah is lucky to have them coaching in the Beehive State.

Madsen brings nine years of NBA playing experience to the Orem campus. He has two NBA championship rings. And contacts galore.

Madsen spent six seasons as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. That includes work with game plans, scouting reports, working closely at gaining the confidence of the most talented, highly paid, egocentric basketball players on the planet.

There are six coaching seasons, then there are six seasons of coaching.

A college basketball season is between 27 and 30 games depending on postseason play. An NBA season is 82 games plus postseason play and preseason games, or about three times as many tipoffs, game plans and scouting reports. Taking the minimum number of NBA games, Madsen has been on the sidelines at the highest level of the sport for 492 games.

That is a colossal number of tips.

The Madsen hire is a catch for Utah Valley, but in the now, you have to really feel for the current players. They lost their head coach last week to BYU. Since that time, those players had to have set their hopes that one of Pope’s assistants, interim head coach Cody Fueger or Chris Burgess, would be named as his replacement. It would provide a familiar voice and connections and forged trust.

They met Madsen on Sunday and he expected players to go through an offseason workout right after his presser Monday.

Madsen’s main task, just like Pope at BYU, is to recruit his players to buy in. This will consume him in the weeks to come.

By all accounts, relationships are one of Madsen’s strengths. His positivity, humility, approachability and ability to earn trust made him a Lakers favorite. From Bryant to Shaquille O’Neal, Madsen really got to them on a personal level.

One of my favorite Madsen stories occurred after the Lakers made him a first-round pick out of Stanford. When he showed up to his first practice, Shaq had just signed a new $80 million contract and asked Madsen to go with him to buy Rolex watches for the entire team.

After buying the watches, Shaq took Madsen to a car dealership and asked him to pick out a car. Madsen politely declined and leased a Jeep Cherokee instead as Shaq looked over his signing of the papers. Back then it wasn’t unusual for the superstar to buy trucks or SUVs for players, managers or trainers that had license plates that read in some form: THXSHAQ.

Shaq took Madsen to a "Big and Tall." store. Thrifty Mark reluctantly chose a shirt and a pair of pants. What he did not know is Shaq had the clerks stockpile packages of those shirts and pants in his size in every color behind the counter.

When the time came to check out, Madsen got out his wallet to pay for a shirt and pair of pants. The clerks brought out stacks and stacks of shirts and pants. Clerks even had suits, jackets, shoes and a pile of socks. Shaq insisted on paying for all of it.

This began a long-lasting relationship between Madsen and O'Neal that has continued to this day. Madsen had a similar relationship with Kobe.

During a game one day, a vendor dropped a box of popcorn and Kobe asked Madsen to pick it up and bring it to him. Madsen retrieved it, and on the way back, Shaq asked, “Mark, give me the popcorn.” Madsen said he could not, Kobe had claimed it. Shaq asked again, Madsen refused, keeping his promise. This went back and forth for a minute until Madsen delivered the goods to Kobe. The team got a lot of miles out of it, that Madsen kept his word and would not be swayed, even when pressured by the big man.

In the NBA’s world of mega money, narcissistic gladiators, where coaches are often run out of town by superstar players when they don’t get their way, Madsen was unique in his relationships, his simplicity in applied moral fortitude. He was a light on the hill.

It is interesting that Pope, Burgess and Madsen, all top high school players connected to the local culture through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and with family ties to Utah Valley, chose to go to Washington/Kentucky, Duke (Burgess later transferred to Utah) and Stanford when the time came to sign with a college back in the day.

Now all three are husbands and fathers, seeking a place to settle down in a hectic profession and crazy world and they’ve picked Utah County, a place they have learned to appreciate.

UVU president Astrid S. Tuminez introduced Madsen, saying he fits the mold of another head coach two feet taller than the president, referring to Pope. Tuminez searched for a home in Utah Valley after replacing Matt Holland. A home she was close to buying is now the one Madsen will reportedly purchase.

Madsen was married two years ago to Hannah Harkness, a musical prodigy, once a student at Juilliard and a former Miss Utah contestant. They have a 1-year-old son.

“I told Hannah if she’d learn how to read an NBA boxscore, I’d learn to read Mozart,” Madsen said.

Both are on diaper duty.

In many ways, Mad Dog Madsen and Hannah will fit right in.