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INDIANAPOLIS — Rejuvenated. The feeling has nothing to do with ex-coach Fred Hoiberg being ousted. Instead, the feeling is because it’s the only thing you can feel when being around new Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen. He looked and sounded like a high-profile college coach (that’s a compliment) in Indianapolis during his first game at the helm.
“I told the team I’m disappointed we didn’t win but I’m not discouraged,” Boylen said after his NBA head-coaching debut ended in a 96-90 loss to the Pacers.
In the NBA there is a very business-like sound and feel to coaching. Pacers coach Nate McMillan exhibited this by looking cool and acting collected. The complete opposite description of the other sideline. Boylen looked like he was coaching in Game 7 of the NBA playoffs at different points of the game. He was actively showing emotions and motioning toward players from the sideline.
“I really like this team,” Boylen said, smiling. “I like these guys, I thought we competed, I thought we battled. That’s a big physical team.”
PATH TO BULLS
Boylen’s optimism and passion could be felt. The Bulls are instantly intriguing with him running the show.
He’s not your typical NBA coach. He served as an assistant at Michigan State, then he was an assistant for multiple NBA teams. Thirteen years later he rejoined Michigan State as an assistant , before becoming head at the University of Utah. After five years with the Utes he became an assistant in the NBA again in 2011.
Finally, on Dec. 4, 2018 he got his chance to be a head coach in the NBA.
“We gotta get tougher,” Boylen said about the Bulls shooting just five free throws. “When you get tougher you get those calls.”
In the locker room the mood was mixed, but more positive than not. Bulls forward Jabari Parker left without speaking to reporters and center Robin Lopez was nowhere to be found. But swingman Justin Holiday was having an extended conversation with the media.
“It’s an adjustment period,” Holiday said. “Even waking up today with a new coach it’s an adjustment period. When you have change in your life that’s just what it is.”
Arguably the Bulls’ most important player, Lauri Markkanen, who had a team-high 21 points, seemed to be in a positive mood.
“We’re still trying to keep the pace up when we have the chance,” Markkanen said when asked about the adjustment of the coaching strategies from Hoiberg to Boylen.
The first bus had already left the arena at 9:55 p.m. and the last one was scheduled to leave at 10:05. However, the clock in the visiting team’s locker room was a little ahead, saying the time was 10:02 when it wasn’t — confusing Markkanen as he told his teammates they had to hurry up.
After looking at the time on his phone himself to make sure he had time to talk, guard Antonio Blakeney — a major surprise for the Bulls last season on a two-way contract and is now on an NBA deal — had high praise for Boylen.
“Coach has always been that way,” Blakeney told Amico Hoops about the fiery emotions of Boylen on the sideline. “It’s not like he’s a new coach. He’s been here with us since I got here. The two-years I’ve been here he’s been here. He’s been here for four years. It’s kind of what we expect and (we) definitely try to play hard for him.”
READY FOR REBUILD
Rookie forward Wendell Carter Jr., the seventh overall pick, is a large part of the rebuild in Chicago. If the new coach is going to have any success, he’s going to have to get the most out of Carter Jr. So far it appears Boylen is sending positive messages to the rookie.
“He just put a lot of emphasis on the defensive end,” Carter Jr. said of Boylen. “Just making sure we got stops.”
In fact, Boylen had a personal message for Carter Jr. when they met privately recently.
”Don’t play with any limits, don’t play reserved, just play aggressive on both ends of the court,” Carter Jr. said of Boylen’s message.
The pulse of the team seems stronger than expected. The Bulls can be refreshing with a new coach; even if there was love for the old one.
With Boylen at the helm, the Bulls instantly should become a very interesting team over the next few months. Hopefully for the Bulls, the feeling of rejuvenation is able to withstand the likely losing that they will face.