ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Mike Dunlap is intense.
And that's one reason why Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who knows a thing or two about intensity, hired him as his coach. Now Dunlap gets to leave his stamp on a team that finished with an NBA-worst 7-59 record and lost its final 23 games last season.
With Jordan watching from the bleachers at UNC-Asheville's Kimmel Arena, Dunlap ran his team through its first training camp practice Tuesday. Players said practice was swift, the intensity omnipresent.
Guard Gerald Henderson said Dunlap had already set the tone in June when he walked on the floor as the Bobcats' coach for the team's first voluntary workout.
"Coach is an intense, high-energy kind of guy," Henderson said. "We've been working out a lot this summer and our workouts have been high intensity, quick and very hard. That's how he likes things. That's how we're going to improve."
Center Brendan Haywood said that's what a young team like the Bobcats needs.
"I was telling some of the young guys we need a coach who is going to be hands-on and very no-nonsense," Haywood said. "And I think that's what we have, a coach who's passionate about the game and wants guys to understand the right way to play basketball."
Dunlap was a bit of a surprise hire.
Rod Higgins, the president of basketball operations, and general manager Rich Cho, who led the coaching search, had trimmed the final list of candidates to three — and Dunlap wasn't one of them. It appeared they had settled on Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw or Quin Snyder. But after Sloan pulled out of the running, the Bobcats took another look at Dunlap.
Dunlap brings 32 years of coaching experience to the Bobcats, including 14 as a college head coach. Nine of those seasons were spent at Metropolitan State College in Denver, leading his teams to of Division II national championships in 2000 and 2002. He was also an assistant with the Denver Nuggets from 2006-08 under George Karl and spent the last two seasons as an assistant at St. John's.
He lists Pete Newell, John Wooden, George Raveling and Karl as his biggest influences. But his basketball passion took root as a child in Alaska, where he'd often battle on court with his two older brothers.
"I guess you could say I was feisty," Dunlap said with a deliberate smile.
He loved basketball and brought a keen eye to the game. Now, his players see that every day. It isn't unusual for Dunlap to blow a whistle at a moment's notice, pulling his players together to explain something they missed. Sometimes it's something obvious. Sometimes it's more complex.
"He's very big on paying close attention to detail," guard Ben Gordon said. "He's big on the order of things and doing things in a certain order so you get a certain result. He doesn't get mad, but he's real direct with what he says. He's real specific. If guys aren't getting it then he tries to make that very clear."
Sometimes that message gets across. But, as in every coach-player relationship, there are times it doesn't.
"He's very smart and he'll use some pretty big words," forward Tyrus Thomas said with a laugh. "Sometimes he just stops us and starts talking and I'm like, 'OK coach, I think I know where you're going with this, but I don't have any clue what you're talking about.'"
Dunlap is a numbers whiz, someone who spouts stats and percentages without glancing at a sheet of paper. He's developed a chart that grades players in eight categories — among them tipped passes, assists, denying the ball to the low post. He said research tells him if the Bobcats reach their team goals they have a 70 percent of winning the game.
But more than anything he prides himself as a teacher. He's currently working with No. 2 overall draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on correcting what he feels is a hitch in his jump shot.
"We've tried to smooth that out.... You take things away. With his grip. You cock his wrist so he doesn't roll his wrists," Dunlap said.
He's also worked with guard Kemba Walker on his shot and finishing ability around the rim. Walker said he's seen immense improvement.
"He's just a great teacher," Walker said. "And he's really intense. He wants guys to play hard. He doesn't care about a lot of other things, but playing hard is really, really key for him. He expects a lot from us so I think that's why he acts the way he does.
"He knows what kind of situation we were in last year and he doesn't want us as players to be in that spot again, and neither do we."
Whether Dunlap can make the Bobcats competitive remains to be seen. This, after all, is a team with the worst single-season winning percentage in league history. But his players believe he's on the right path.
"People forget, this is not Mike's first rodeo," Thomas said. "He's been in the league and he knows how to talk to guys and handle guys because normally that's what an assistant does. I think he's going to be something special for this organization."