With the NCAA Tournament fast approaching former Detroit Piston and current Detroit Shock Head Coach Bill Laimbeer is helping promote the Big Dance along with Coke Zero and their "Taste the Madness" promotion.
Bill spent a few minutes with HHR's Cadillac Mescallade to talk hoops from his days at Notre Dame to the Bad Boys back in Detroit.
Cadillac Mescallade: So first can you tell us a little bit about what's going on with Coke Zero and the "Taste the Madness" website?
Bill Laimbeer: Coke Zero is a large sponsor of the NCAA tournament, and I am helping them make an awareness of a program going on where fans are shooting video of their favorite team, or an individual who is a wild and crazy fan for their own team, and they can upload all those videos at www.tastethemadness.com.
They are gonna pick some winners and they are gonna show them during the final game on CBS-TV. It’s a nice 15 minutes of fame so to speak. And also for the winner, Papa Johns is gonna be throwing a big pizza party for them. Some interesting videos are already up there.
CM: The Big East tourney is underway and you're a Notre Dame guy. What do you make of the Irish this season? It's been a bit of a down year for a very talented team.
BL: It has. You could argue they underachieved, or that the expectations were too high. They will have to do very well in the tournament. If they get to the semi-finals of the [Big East] tournament, they'll be looked at. If they get to the finals [of the Big East Tournament], it will be a good chance to get in [to the NCAA Tournament]. I feel bad for them, they play in the Big East and it’s the toughest conference there is.
CM: What are some of the memories you have from your days playing for Notre Dame?
BL: Well, we were the only team to get to the Final Four for Notre Dame. Just great teammates, and in my junior year 9 players on my team that made the NBA...which you don’t see too often anymore. Also, at that time there was no cable television. NBC had exclusive television rights for one game a week and Notre Dame happened to be on 2 out of 4 weeks, so we got lots of exposure. Also, just the college atmosphere. It went by so fast. I won at every level, and that is the one thing missing, a college title. It just went by so fast, I wish I could do it over again.
CM: Who do you like in this year's tournament?
BL: I'm gonna take the same position as last year: the power teams and power conferences are battle tested teams. The best teams have gone through the ringer every night and have played a tourney game every evening. I think that is going to help them all. I think UNC, UCONN and Pitt as a number one seeds, and Memphis...I am looking for them to do a lot of damage.
CM: How about Detroit this year, they have been up and down but playing well as of late with Hamilton back in the lineup. Do they have the right mix to go deep again in the playoffs?
BL: Hamilton deserves to be a starter. He makes everyone better, not just from scoring, but the defense he draws to help guard him. While a lot of people written off the Pistons, they are still a dangerous basketball team. They have weapons and experience. If they can integrate Allen Iverson, it will give them more fire power, but with the limited time left in the season, it’s been frustrating for the players and the fans.
CM: How much pride do guys like yourself that used to play for the team still have?
BL: For someone like myself or Isiah, Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, you have a bond with the organization and they are part of you ever. You want to see them be successful, and see them continue the tradition that you have set up for the team in winning. And, for the most part, over the years the pistons have (continued that tradition).
CM: You're so well known for the Pistons and the Bad Boys and physical play. Nowadays physical play isn't as tolerated. Have the fouls really changed that much from your day or have just the rules evolved to enforce them?
BL: A little of both, it’s a physical game. There are big guys and the court is shrinking everyday because guys get bigger. Some of the flagrant fouls they call and you’re like ‘what?’ It takes a little away from the game. They want more high flying and wild dunks for television, but at same time it is still a competition. You’re gonna have your moment when physicality happens, and you'll have your moments with pushing and shoving.
CM: You see this changing anytime soon?
BL: The legislation and the rules dictate that it’s not as acceptable as in the past so I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
CM: You often took on the role of an enforcer, is that something more teams could use today?
BL: My job was to be a good role player for some of the stars we had, rebound the basketball, play defense, and I also was the enforcement, the "sergeant at arms," if you will. If you’re messing with our guards, my job was to make sure you didn’t mess with our guards. At that time you didn’t get free layups. You’d have to earn it, and if you don’t want to get knocked down, you shoot jump shots.
CM: Did you ever imagine you would coach women's professional basketball and then win a title no less? What has that experience been like?
BL: Everybody said I’d be a coach when I was done playing, but I didn’t expect to be a women’s professional coach...because there was no league at that time. However, they play hard, they listen well, they want to succeed, they play physical, they play good team basketball, they do a good job. You can demand of them to be exacting, and they’ll get out there and give it their best shot.
CM: You hit quite a few jumpers during the All-Star Weekend shooting stars competition, how often do you still get out there and play?
BL: My range has diminished over the years but for 10-15 footers, the ball is still the same size, its not that hard.
CM: You mentioned some of your former teammates. How often do you stay in touch with guys like Isiah, who has had a rough couple of years, Joe Dumars and others?
I talked to Isiah a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. Rick Mahorn works for me as an assistant coach. Joe Dumars is at the Palace of Auburn Hills. People always ask me if I see Dennis Rodman. I don’t see Dennis Rodman. He’s out west somewhere.
Thanks to Bill Laimbeer for taking some time out as I know he has been running a gauntlet of promotional interviews as of late.