DeMar DeRozan, Marcus Johnson and O.J. Mayo have electrified the Galen Center in recent years with thunderous slam dunks.
But before the Galen Center even opened, USC had arguably one of the highest-flying collegiate backcourts, featuring the highlight-producing duo of Harold Miner, a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner, and Robert Pack, the runner-up in the 1994 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest.
“We were a very athletic backcourt,” Pack said.
Pack left USC in 1991 ranking fourth on the Trojans’ all-time assist list after just two seasons, and went on to have a 13-year run in the NBA for six different teams.
Toward the end of his career, however, Pack suffered several injuries, and realized he needed to prepare for a career after his playing days ended.
“I began to think that I would really enjoy coaching,” Pack said.
Playing behind All-Star point guards Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis and Jason Kidd, Pack diligently observed and advised his teammates, and absorbed as much knowledge as possible from his coaches.
“I was competing with those guys for playing time, but I still took the time to teach those guys the things that I knew,” Pack said.
The New Orleans Hornets recognized his coaching potential, and hired Pack as an assistant last season, allowing him to briefly work in the state where he was born and raised, after a year as an assistant coach for the NBA Developmental League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
This season, Pack is an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In addition to the typical scouting and game plan preparation duties, Pack is responsible for mentoring the Clippers’ young point guards. The Clippers have an experienced veteran starter in Mo Williams, along with two rookies backing him up in Eric Bledsoe and Willie Warren.
“The young guards that are just coming in do not know the league yet, so I do a lot of film work and different things with those guys,” Pack said.
In his summer league debut with the Clippers, Bledsoe showed his potential by scoring 17 points, but also displayed his inexperience, committing 10 turnovers.
Since that point, Bledsoe and Pack have become nearly inseparable, breaking down film together, perfecting Bledsoe’s jump shot and discussing the mental aspects of the game.
“[Pack] has helped me out with everything, teaching me things I will use the rest of my career,” Bledsoe said.
The improvement in Bledsoe’s game has been tangible. He has been a reliable presence off the bench and started when necessary.
“Eric Bledsoe, compared to where he was over the summer to now, is a completely different player,” said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. “Robert has spent a lot of time with him, and it shows.”
Coming out of USC, Pack was undrafted.
One of his biggest challenges as an assistant coach has been to keep players like Bledsoe, who received a guaranteed contract after being chosen in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft out of Kentucky, motivated.
“Not being drafted was something I used every day of career in the NBA,” Pack said. “I was always a driven person that worked very hard, but that was something added to keep me going.”
At times, it has been difficult for Pack to sit on the bench in a dress suit, watching the young point guards make what seem like obvious mistakes.
Nevertheless, Pack, 42, remains content, despite no longer playing, and has gained a greater appreciation for the effort coaches consistently put into their jobs.
“I realize that coaches work a lot harder than the players,” Pack said. “I am often up until two or three in the morning watching film. A lot of hours go into it.”
Despite the long hours, Pack aspires to be a head coach one day.
“I do not affect the game from a physical standpoint anymore. Instead, I am preparing and teaching,” Pack said. “It gives me great satisfaction to see these young guys have success, and get better and better everyday.”