Cavs coach Beilein energized for new set of challenges

Cavaliers coach John Beilein is entering the NBA for the first time following 12 seasons at Michigan.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — John Beilein was awake at 5:50 a.m., on the treadmill a mere 10 minutes later.

“I had a great workout,” the new Cavaliers coach said, smiling. “I’m excited to get started.”

Beilein is 66-years old but starting fresh in a first-time job. He’s still a basketball coach, but after 36 years in the college game, the NBA is almost like an entirely new profession.

“You have six weeks of preseason in college,” said Beilein, who most recently spent 12 years at Michigan. “Now, you have just three weeks of preseason and then your first game.”

That’s not the only difference. In college, the players are generally ages 18 to 22. In the NBA, it’s not 18 to 80, but it is usually both kids and grizzled vets. And with everyone from rookie Darius Garland (19) to power forward Kevin Love (31), the Cavs fall into that category.

But no matter the age or experience, Beilein said the focus will remain on the fundamentals.

“Rarely does a sport have a 19-year old come up and play with a 30-year old,” Beilein said. “That will probably be the biggest challenge. We have to teach the fundamentals while making sure Kevin and Tristan (Thompson) aren’t bored with the same old, same old. And with the young guys it will be, ‘How do we enhance the learning curve?'”

Another big difference?

Last year at Michigan, Beilein lost seven games. Last year in the NBA, the Cavaliers lost 63.

Beilein compared the project in front of him to Cleveland’s renewed gym, formerly known as Quicken Loans Arena and now called Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“There are a lot of things going on down there (at the arena),” Beilein said. “They had to repurpose and refurbish different areas to keep up with the times. We’re going to be doing the same thing.”

The Cavs aren’t supposed to be very good. Most experts predict they are headed for another year without the postseason. Some will tell you they’ll be lucky to win 30 of the 82 games.

Beilein isn’t concerning himself with any of that.

“We’re going to have a mindset of incredible growth,” he said. “We’re going to be known for developing players.”

Even so, he knows challenges await. Or at least what others would consider a challenge.

“There are a lot of opportunities here instead of challenges,” Beilein said. “One of them is coaching truly great players.”

Beilein and his coaching staff had rookies in last week, familiarizing himself with the likes of garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. That was part of the teaching process that Beilein covets.

Another big challenge will be trying to get the Cavs’ defense somewhere, well, other than where it was last season.

“It was historically bad, like, in NBA history,” Beilein said. “We’re going to correct that. Doesn’t make a difference how pretty we are on offense if we can’t stop anybody.”

For Beilein, this is all sort of new. But it’s really not. It’s all basketball. And while it’s a change, it’s one he chose.

“I prepare for every practice just like I do a game,” he said. “There’s a different dynamic to the year. I have a new energy.”

But it was what Beilein said first that you knew he meant the most.

“It’s thrilling to have this day come,” he said. “The happiest I’ll be is tomorrow at 10 a.m. when we start practice.”