Locally grown product
N.E. roots go deep for Del Negro clan
Vin Del Negro often made the drive from Springfield to Boston to cheer on the Celtics in the 1960s. And Del Negro was in town for Games 1 and 2 of this year's playoffs, his allegiance now split, since his son, Vinny, is coaching the Chicago Bulls.
"When the Celtics are playing my son's team, I'm for Vinny," said Del Negro, 73. "Chicago has a young team that works hard and is missing a couple of pieces. Boston lost [Kevin] Garnett, unfortunately, but Ray Allen is a great shooter and they still have three All-Stars - Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, who is an All-Star, in my opinion.
"I'm still a Celtics guy when they are not playing my son's team. Boston was always my favorite team. I used to go the Garden twice a week in the Celtics' heyday and drive my wife nuts."
Vin Del Negro had a stormy time playing basketball. But he smoothed the way for his son, who had a successful professional career in the NBA and Italy, then went into administration and television before developing a Bulls team that upset the Celtics Saturday in overtime and went to the wire before losing Monday.
"I had no guidance," said Vin Del Negro. "I played in the service with Tom Gola and I was recruited by North Carolina, Duke, and Memphis State."
Del Negro enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Junior College, and after performing in an all-star game in Coffeyville, Kan., he decided to accept an offer from Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp.
"I was throwing in hook shots left- and righthanded and the Kentucky coaches thought I could be another Cliff Hagan," he recalled. "I was 6-5 and I could jump - I could throw it down, which was something back then."
But he also tossed behind-the-back passes and swore at referees. Dunking and fancy passing were considered signs of rebelliousness, especially by authoritarian collegiate coaches. The New England accent and attitude also did not work in his favor. Del Negro was dropped from the starting lineup and soon left Kentucky.
"My son is so different," he said. "He keeps an even keel, he's level-headed, smart.
"I was a guiding light, but I never coached him. We had a hoop in the backyard and he loved it so much, he practiced six, seven, eight hours a day. It would be 90 degrees and there was a pool and kids in it and I'd say, 'Why don't you go take a swim?' But it meant an hour less playing basketball and he wouldn't do it."
Vinny Del Negro's pro career started when Bill Russell, then general manager of the Sacramento Kings, selected him in the 1988 NBA draft, and the Celtic connections continued as his teammates included Danny Ainge (Sacramento), Doc Rivers (San Antonio), and Ray Allen (Milwaukee).
"I used to call him 'kerosene,' " Rivers said. "I had to put out the fire that he started. He was a terrific player, but part of that is true. By that time in my career, I was a hatchet man and I was backing up Vinny and Avery [Johnson]. And [coach] Bob Hill used to tell me go put out their fires - yeah, he was getting torched, no doubt about that.
"We are very close. This is actually difficult because you're going up against a very good friend and your families are close."
"I've been in basketball all my life, and coaching was probably the next step for me," said Vinny Del Negro. "It's something I wanted to do, to challenge myself to do.
"I've had great coaches, great mentors, played with so many great players in my career. From Jim Valvano to [Gregg] Popovich to George Karl - I've taken things those guys used when I played and tried to incorporate things I feel comfortable with and will help the team."
Del Negro has been especially attentive to Derrick Rose, the 20-year-old guard who scored 36 points against the Celtics in Game 1, tying Lew Alcindor's record for points by a rookie in his playoff debut.
"We talk all the time and watch film," Del Negro said. "People forget he's only 20. You've got to let him go and play a little bit and go through the experience himself. Prepare him and help him understand when he is making mistakes and how he needs to improve, help him understand the angles on the court and where he needs to attack.
"There are so many things, I could write a book on that."
Basketball once brought out the rebelliousness in Del Negro's father, and the Celtics sometimes took him away from his family when he was a fan. But the sport is connecting generations and becoming a family affair for the Del Negros.
Vin Del Negro and his wife drove in for Games 1 and 2 from Pembroke, where they have moved to be closer to their daughters. And Vin is spending time with a nephew, Bobby Ahearn, an eighth-grader who lives in Marshfield.
"We work on skills and fundamentals in the backyard," Del Negro said. "Bobby reminds me of my son."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.