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Friday, January 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sonics

New Sonics coach Hill busy trying to turn around team

Seattle Times staff reporter

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — After his first victory as Sonics coach, Bob Hill's head hit the pillow at about 3 in the morning Thursday, and three hours later he was up reviewing game film and preparing for practice.

The 57-year-old coach normally gets about five hours of sleep each night, but since replacing Bob Weiss he has been burning the midnight oil.

"I've never been a sleeper my whole life," he said. "My mom used to say I was afraid I'm going to miss something, that's why I'd always get up. I just have never required a lot of sleep."

Hill hardly looks like someone who is exhausted. In fact, he said he's just the opposite. His new assignment, the fourth NBA head-coaching job in his 30-plus-year career, has given him a new lease on life.

Spend a few minutes with the Sonics and there's little doubt who's in charge. Hill is putting his stamp on the team. Not only has he shuffled the starting lineup and reworked the rotations, he's changing the way the Sonics (14-17) practice.

Immediately upon taking over, he instituted a gag order in practice. Unless they're helping each other on the court, players are not permitted to talk.

"This is the first team I've ever been around that you've had to say, you can't talk," Hill said. "In San Antonio I never said that. They came in. They went to work. They were respectful of each other. We never had to discipline anybody."

Today

Seattle at Detroit, 5 p.m., FSN

His gag order extends to assistants Jack Sikma and Ralph Lewis. He wants them to follow his lead during games and quit berating the referees.

"When we first started this [Sikma] would complain at the [officials] about every little thing, and he's got a unique voice, that great voice," Hill said. "So finally I said, 'You know, Jack, I think it would be advantageous for us if you let all the little insignificant [stuff] that happens, let that go. They're starting to look at you like you're an idiot.' "

Message received. Both Sikma and the players have hit the mute button.

Hill also lengthened practice, almost doubling the time of workouts under Weiss. The Sonics held a 90-minute workout before Wednesday's 101-97 victory against Chicago and are expected to do the same this morning before tonight's game against Detroit (25-4) at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

"His practices are a lot more aggressive, a lot more intense and a lot of running," Sonics forward Rashard Lewis said. "Like he said the first day he became the coach, he felt like we were not in shape and he was going to get us in shape and the next couple of weeks of practice were going to be like training camp.

"I'm all for it. I think by making guys practice hard every day it's disciplining guys, and I think that's what we were missing on this team."

Admittedly, Lewis rejoiced when Weiss took the job, embracing his laid-back approach because he believed ex-coach Nate McMillan was too strict and that his practices were too long and demanding.

"We thought that and we said that, but in many ways we're still a young team," Lewis said. "We'd never gone through a winning season like that before. We practiced hard all year and [McMillan] was disciplined and he stayed on top of us.

"You kind of miss that after the way we started this season. ... When you're not winning, and you're losing like we were, you wish you can go back to what was winning even though he was a hardass and he was [tough] and a lot of times we complained and moaned. It helped. It worked."

During the final minutes of Thursday's three-hour practice at Oakland University, Hill never stopped teaching.

He gave private instruction to rookie Johan Petro on free-throw shooting and barked directions at Luke Ridnour during a layup drill. Toward the end of the workout, he playfully traded barbs with Allen, calling him Ray Charles as the All-Star guard sat on the sideline wearing dark lenses to protect his bruised right eye.

"I love it," Hill said. "I really do. I like practice better than the games. You get to teach and get better at practice. Help individuals get better. The team gets better. ... I don't dislike the game, don't get me wrong, but in the job of coaching, I've always enjoyed practice the most."

When the drills were completed, Hill's day was just picking up steam. He was to meet with his assistants before dinner and prepare for tonight. He said he'd likely review video of Thursday's practice as well as clips from previous Detroit games before turning in.

He was hoping to get five hours of sleep, but admitted that was unlikely.

Note

• Allen met with an ophthalmologist Thursday and tests revealed no serious damage. He's expected to start tonight.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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