BRIAN Goorjian, who made his name in Victoria and has since made his mark in Sydney, will pass the legendary Lindsay Gaze in National Basketball League games coached when the Kings play Sydney's other team, West Sydney Razorbacks, tomorrow.
Gaze's 651 is a number well passed, for it was Gaze who — after Goorjian's father Ed began the process in the United States — helped the brash young American into elite coaching at Eastside Melbourne Spectres, in 1988.
Goorjian has enormous respect for Gaze, despite the relationship becoming frosty when Goorjian's teams went to war with Gaze's Melbourne Tigers in the 1990s.
Goorjian loves Gaze's passion for basketball, and he often reflects on how it helped him when the doyen brought him to Australia as a player in 1977. Gaze, who retired from the NBL after the 2004-05 season, said yesterday it was inevitable that Goorjian coached.
"He's the son of a coach for a start. Basketball's embedded in his blood. He's never wanted to do anything else," he said.
"One of the reasons Brian's been so successful is the personality trait he had as a player. He had the remarkable and consistent ability to turn tragedy into humour. He'd feel bad, too (after a loss), but in no time would be cracking jokes."
And cracking the whip with players to help them make the most of what they have. That, said Goorjian, 53, was one of the great delights of his 20 NBL seasons.
This milestone is special because, he said: "One of the things my dad always told me is that success in this business is staying in the business. It's a real accomplishment to survive as an NBL coach. A lot of good coaches have been burned up."
Success and longevity are why he respects football's Kevin Sheedy and Mick Malthouse and rugby league's Wayne Bennett.
While playing with Tigers in the late 1970s, Goorjian began coaching when he set up a basketball program at St James College in East Bentleigh. He coached Bulleen women for a couple of seasons and then another school, Ivanhoe Grammar, which won a schoolboys' title with David Graham, later an NBL championship player, as captain.
Goorjian's traineeship began well before that. "I sat in the car with my dad as a nine-year-old, going to all his games," he said. Years later he sat in the stands at Albert Park and talked more with Gaze.
Now he builds his knowledge with help from American contacts of his assistant with the Kings, Bill Tomlinson, and his own sounding board, Mike Dunlap, an American who coached in the NBL and in US colleges before becoming head assistant coach with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
He often talks with those in other sports, especially football, including, most recently, Neil Craig of the Adelaide Crows.
"I'm just starting to get better at my craft, in my mid-50s," Goorjian said. "I'm just starting to become something. I'm coaching a lot better than I did in my 30s."
His reputation, winning aside, is as a developer of young players and he talks fondly of those he helped mould: Tony Ronaldson, Frank Drmic, Darren Lucas, John Dorge, Chris Anstey, Sam Mackinnon …
"There's been some hardness in the process, but they know I've done everything I can to help them become pretty damn good players, pretty damn good people," he said.
Jason Smith, the Kings captain, is a favourite. "When we won the '96 championship, he was 10th man. Bill Nelson (the swimming coach and Goorjian adviser) came to me and said 'J' will be the guy that will be closest to the best he can be.
"I'd given 'J' nothing. I'd driven him for three years. (Now) we've got an unbelievably strong relationship. I'm so proud of the guy, as a family man, as a person, as a leader. He didn't have the gifts (of others), he's a self-made man."
Smith, also a Boomer, has been coached only by Goorjian in the NBL — and he is in his 12th season and has played 344 games. He described Goorjian as a mentor and a good friend.
He said his best moments were sharing the experience of the 2004 Olympics with his coach and winning the 2004 NBL championship despite having problems with imports Mark Sanford and Rolan Roberts. "They were tough to handle. He spent endless hours working with them."
Already an NBL great, Goorjian remains unfulfilled in his other coaching job with the national men's team, the Boomers.
"The NBL never stops, but the international challenge is by far the hardest I've ever been involved with," he said. "It's the toughest competition, the least understood. I've been working on it for four years (since Australia did not qualify for the 2002 world championship, for finishes outside the top eight in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 titles).
"The world's moving at hyperspeed. But we have the talent, if everyone puts their hands up, to do something special. If I could get that done, I'd be so proud, it'd put a bow on it …
"I'm talking Beijing (in 2008) and getting (Andrew) Bogut, (David) Andersen and the others for two years to play great basketball together. If that happens, we've got a group; if they can get comfortable with each, that can win a medal.
"The next two years are 'D-day'. That drives me, that excites me."
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