Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wildwood Crest's Frank Vogel gets first chance to visit Philly as NBA ?head coach

PHILADELPHIA - Frank Vogel grew up with the No. 10 on his back.

The Wildwood Crest native wore the number for one reason - his basketball idol was former Philadelphia 76er point guard Maurice Cheeks.

From where he stood Monday night, Vogel could look up and see Cheeks' No. 10 hanging in the rafters of Wells Fargo Center. Vogel coached the Indiana Pacers against the 76ers - the team for which he grew up rooting. Philadelphia won 96-86 (related story, D4).

"It's just surreal," Vogel said before the game. "I pinch myself on a daily basis that I'm even doing this. I keep it all in perspective and try to do the best I can. I believe in my ability to do this job at a high level. It doesn't feel like I don't belong, but it's very surreal."

Vogel, a 1991 Wildwood High School graduate, had coached the Pacers in New Jersey against the Nets and in New York against the Knicks. But Monday was the first time he coached the Pacers in Philadelphia.

"I thought about that (Monday) morning," Vogel said. "I just thought, 'Wow, I haven't been a head coach in this building yet.' "

Vogel brought tickets for 20 family members and friends, including mother Fran, father Frank and his high school coach, Joe Bimbo. Vogel had dinner in Philadelphia with his mother on Sunday night and lunch with his father on Monday afternoon.

"He loves teaching the game," Vogel's mother said. "He's doing what he loves to do. He whistles on his way to work."

His family and friends sat behind the Pacers' bench and stood and cheered when the public-address announcer said, "And the coach of the Indiana Pacers, from Wildwood, New Jersey ... Frank Vogel."

The Pacers named Vogel, 38, their interim coach last season. He led the Pacers to a 20-18 record. Indiana also impressed in the playoffs, losing a five-game series to the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers named him the full-time coach last July.

"I've always wanted to be a head coach," Vogel said.

He began pursuing a career in coaching in 1994. He transferred from NCAA Division III Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., to the University of Kentucky to get involved in the program run by then-coach Rick Pitino. Vogel eventually spent 14 years in the NBA as an assistant coach and video coordinator.

"He's always been in the right place at the right time," Frank Vogel said of his son. "He's like Forrest Gump."

Still, most NBA coaches are former players.

"This type of opportunity would not come along for most coaches," Vogel said. "As long as I felt like I was moving up the line and progressing as an assistant coach, I wanted to hold out for this opportunity, and luckily for me it worked out."

The lockout that delayed the start of this season gave him a chance to appreciate how far he's come. It also gave him time to spend with his wife, Jenifer, and their daughters - Alexa, 7, and Arianna, 5.

Now that the season has begun, he's caught in a whirlwind of travel and games. Monday's game was the Pacers' third in four days.

"Since the season started, I only think about the next game," he said. "I just want to manage our guys the right way and prepare them the right way."

The Pacers are 6-3 after Monday's loss. The lockout that wiped out 16 games from each team's schedule was to the Pacers' advantage, according to Vogel. Indiana is not a veteran team that will struggle physically to handle back-to-back games. The Pacers are also not so young that they will be overwhelmed by the NBA game.

"We're looking to take the next step," Vogel said. "There was a lot of buzz and excitement about our team. We're a team that's entering its prime. We're young, but we're not a bunch of rookies."

Vogel says he's growing as a coach with his team.

"I'm learning on the fly," he said. "I got my feet wet last year. This year has been a challenge as well without much of a training camp. I talk to these guys all the time about togetherness. I'm here to help them, and they're here to help me."

The Pacers played Monday night without leading scorer Danny Granger, who was out with food poisoning. Philadelphia built a 15-point lead in the third quarter and staved off an Indiana fourth-quarter comeback.

When the final buzzer sounded, red, white and blue confetti to celebrate the 76ers' victory was shot out of a cannon into the air right above where Vogel's family happened to be sitting.

His family still has a hard time grasping what Vogel has achieved. His mother visited him in Indiana this past summer. Vogel told her about a friend named Larry.

"Did I meet him?" his mother asked.

She would have remembered. Vogel was referring to NBA legend and Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird.

"Frank enjoys being a role model," Fran said."Set your goals because you can reach them."

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