Herb Santos Jr., managing owner of the Reno Bighorns, joined us to chat about Peja Stojakovic becoming the team's new general manager and this upcoming season. The Bighorns, the D-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings, kick off their season Nov. 13.
Peja Stojakovic is coming on board as the new general manager for the Bighorns. What do you think of him joining the team in that capacity?
This is a great thing for the Reno Bighorns and a great thing for the Reno community. The experience, knowledge and insight that he's going to bring to help these players in their player development, I couldn't think of a better person to be able to have, especially in the type of offense we run where we rely a lot on outside shooting. Peja was an incredible shooter ... I mean, what better person would you want to have as your GM that's involved with player development than someone that has that type of resume?
What are the differences between being a general manager of an NBA team and a D-League team?
I think a lot of it is going to be the same. He's going to be involved in the player personnel decisions, he's going to be involved in player development. It may be a little bit more hands on in the D-League than it is in the NBA just because the very fact there is more support staff in the NBA than there is in the D-League. We have smaller personnel than the NBA does and that is just the reality of being a minor league team. He'll be involved in issues that come up with players, discussions with the coach on both game strategies, player strategies, I see him as being someone who is going to be very hands on in that area. The development of player personnel, making sure that what Sacramento wants for their player development is being implemented in Reno.
You recently had tryouts in Reno and Sacramento, how did those go?
In Sacramento we had over a 120 basketball players ... we have these tryouts and we get some folks that just want to put that on their bucket list to say they tried out for a professional basketball team and then we have the serious guys that may have played already in the D-League, the majority of them all have college experience and we had some guys who can play really good basketball ... We sort of changed the style of basketball this last season and one of the things that the coaches are looking at are guys that are going to be able to hit the three. So always looking for those diamonds in the rough that can shoot from outside.
How often do guys who go to these tryouts actually make the team?
We take 17 to camp and I think pretty consistently have had four to five guys from tryouts that have made it to the training camp.
I assume you were excited when you heard the news the Kings were bringing Eric Moreland back. What do you think about him and the progress he has made?
I was disappointed when Eric hurt his shoulder, I think he has a ton of potential. I'm a big fan of Eric, I thought when he was here I know his shoulder gave him some problems, but I saw somebody that has a lot of potential to be a contributing player for the Kings. So I was very excited when he was brought back and I've got my fingers crossed that he makes the final roster.
Another interesting prospect the Kings have this season is Seth Curry. There is a chance he could end up on your team at some point. What do you think of his game? He's been around the D-League for a while.
He was someone that gave me heartburn every time we played him. Like his brother, he can hit those outside shots and is very consistent, always up and down the court giving 110 percent. He was always someone who posed a challenge for us whenever we played Santa Cruz. There was one game he didn't play, I was happy he didn't play for Santa Cruz. The reality was it gave us a better shot at a win … When you watch these guys in the D-League you know they are fighting for their dream and even though I love watching them play in Reno, watching him play in the NBA, that's what it's all about - when you get to watch someone realize their dream, you know, Jeremy Lin and Danny Green, it just makes everything that you do down here in the D-League that much more worth it.
You mentioned the three-point shooting earlier and you talk about the brand of basketball the Bighorns play a lot. How would you describe the brand of basketball the Bighorns play?
The first things is, this team has been a big commitment for me with my family. My wife comes to the games. Before we started this system, it was getting to a point where she would just sit and play Candy Crush while she's watching the games. Last year, she was on the edge of her seat, almost knocking me off my seat, screaming and yelling as one of the loudest fans. I said, ‘OK, this is good,' I've got someone that was sort of losing it with basketball and not wanting to come to the games back to be a fanatic fan.
So that aspect of it, the excitement that it brings for the fans, basically it is three-point shots, 7-second shock clock and only in the paint and no mid-rangers - that's the offense, and pressure defense. That's the type of basketball that I love watching and to me that type of energy resonates from the players, to the coaches to the fans and it makes for a great experience for everybody.
Do you think the players and coaches like playing that style of ball? It's probably something they haven't experienced before.
There was a learning curve in the beginning because it is different than what most of them are used to. Then they realize they are able to showcase their skills ... when you look at the fact that we had five call-ups (last season) ... they are able to do a lot of special things. When you are playing at that speed, I'm not a scout for the NBA or a coach for the NBA, I was a season-ticket-holder fan that became an owner of a D-League team, but I would think that when they are looking at these guys, they are looking for a person who can come right off the bench, score points quickly, play that pressure defense and do these spurts when a starter needs a break.
Those types of things allow a rotation where you are in two minutes, out two minutes ... being able to show that you can come right off the bench and start scoring, and making plays and creating turnovers and things like that. In my mind, that's going to catch the eyes of the coaches and the NBA coaches and have them take a second, third and fourth look, and hopefully give that player the opportunity to do the call up.
I am sure you saw the reports that came out last season about how Vivek Ranadive is using the Bighorns as an experiment - the frenzied pace, the threes - do you view the Bighorns as a place for the Kings to conduct these experiments?
When you look at the Development League, it is sort of an experimental project for the NBA. Trying out new rules, trying out basketballs, I mean there is a whole bunch of things the D-League is in and of itself on a broad scale. As to with the Kings, that's exactly what the D-League should be doing, is allowing teams to try things to see how they work first as more of an experiment as opposed to jumping on board and trying to cold turkey it in the NBA. So the fact that the D-League is sort of built for that to be able to do that I think it is a mistake for an NBA team not try it.
For fans who haven't been out to a Bighorns game yet, how would you describe the atmosphere and what should they expect if they check out a game?
The first thing about a Bighorns game is there is a whole bunch of stuff going on and there just happens to be a basketball game going on at the same time. We have a really fun atmosphere. On one end of the court, we have a huge kid zone where you have kids jumping up and down in the bounce houses from the moment they walk in until after the game is over and it is time to leave.
We have an intimate stadium that we play in, it seats just under 4,000 folks - there's not a bad seat in the house. Even half full it can get very loud. We have a lot of really good fans that love this team ... we've got one lady that her and her husband have a courtside table and they bring brownies and cookies before every game for the team. The team would be nervous if the cookies and brownies didn't come in, like "is she OK?"
So the Kings have Sign Lady and the Bighorns have Brownie Lady?
Right. I have met her [Sign Lady], she is a very nice lady and she's just an awesome fan.