There is a Tom Thibodeau you don’t know.
Tom Thibodeau the shoot first, offensive-minded gunner.
That Thibodeau was much younger, thinner, had more hair, and was still not the tallest guy on the team.
But he was still always about hard work, about learning, about attention to detail. And about winning.
That’s according to Peter Roby, who grew up playing with Thibodeau in Connecticut and coached with him at Harvard. He talked about the young, different (in some ways) coach of the year in a must-read piece by Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com.
“When he was in high school, he would get a few feet over halfcourt and it was like he was already looking to see where he could get his shot off because he had tremendous range and he wasn’t afraid, but part of that came from him feeling really confident because he had put all the work in. He was not afraid to shoot the ball, he was really clever — not necessarily going to beat you with speed or overall athleticism — but he was going to outwork you and he was unafraid,” recalled Peter Roby about the man. “When he got to college, it was kind of funny because he was such an undersized kind of guy, but he was so schooled in footwork and positioning, and getting guys pinned under the rim.
“He did a lot of damage by getting fouled and getting guys off-balance, and he still had some range to shoot in college, but he did it in multiple ways. It was just kind of indicative of how much of a student of a game he was, even as a player, trying to squeeze every ounce of whatever talent he had out and he was that kind of player, but he wasn’t make his living of getting out on the floor because of his defensive prowess.”
It’s fun to read about that footwork when you think of how he worked with Yao Ming in Houston and Joakim Noah now in Chicago. Life lessons passed along.
But it’s not hard to see how Thibodeau ended up where he did, Roby said.
“I knew that Tom was going to end up being a coach, there was no doubt. Once he jumped into it, you could see how focused he was and how much of a sponge he was about trying to learn. That’s one of the things that I think is a constant about Tom is that whatever level he was on, he was always in search of knowledge, trying to learn from other people who have been successful, trying to figure out what the keys were and making himself better. He never sat back and just said, ‘Well, now I’m a head coach in Division III, I’ve made it or now, I’m an assistant coach in Division I, I’ve made it or now, I’m an assistant in the NBA, so I can just kind of cruise.’ He always wanted to the best that he could.”