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Originally published December 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 22, 2007 at 12:01 AM

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Ex-UW assistant's jump: junior college to the NBA

Toronto coach Sam Mitchell didn't know Eric Hughes, but he knew Gary Payton. Mitchell needed a conditioning coach to complete his staff...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday's game at a glance

Player of the game: Kevin Durant scored 14 of his game-high 27 points in the decisive third quarter. He connected on 5 of 7 shots in the period and 11 of 18 in the game. The rookie drained four three-pointers and added three assists and two rebounds in 38 minutes.

Turning point: In the third quarter, the Sonics held Toronto to 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting. When the Raptors' offense went cold, Seattle tallied 36 points to take a 92-83 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Key statistic: Ten Sonics players had at least one assist. Earl Watson had a team-high seven and Luke Ridnour had six.

Toronto coach Sam Mitchell didn't know Eric Hughes, but he knew Gary Payton.

Mitchell needed a conditioning coach to complete his staff, and general manager Bryan Colangelo and director of basketball operations Marc Eversley recommended Hughes after watching him work out players in Las Vegas last summer.

Still, Mitchell needed convincing.

Hughes had no reputation at the NBA level. He spent nine years as a Washington Huskies men's assistant, and when Bob Bender and his staff were fired in 2002, Hughes took the head coaching job at Spokane Community College.

"When they recommended him and I had to sign off, I called one person," Mitchell said. "I called GP. And if you know Gary, he's going to tell it like it is, and Gary just raved about him.

"Gary said that if a player calls Eric at 12 o'clock in the morning to work out, he's going to be there. And Gary don't pull any punches. After that, it was easy for me to sign off on it."

And just like that, Hughes had returned to big-time basketball with some help from Payton, who had worked out under Hughes.

Still, don't tell him that his time in Spokane was purgatory.

"I really enjoyed being a junior-college coach," he said. "I loved being in Spokane. ... I loved coaching at that level. Those kids are hungry and all kind of had a chip on their shoulders that they all wanted to be Division I players. I loved it. I was content in my job, but obviously an opportunity like this comes along and you can't pass on it.

"The Husky job, the way it ended, and just the time we put into that job, I just didn't want to do that anymore. I didn't have any aspirations to coach at the Division I level. If Bob had gotten another job, then obviously I would have wanted to work with him. But to go and move to another part of the country and start all over again wasn't something that I wanted to do."

Hughes led the Bigfoots to an 88-61 record during five seasons and the Eastern Region championship in 2005 and '06.

During the summers, he worked as a trainer for Goodwin Sports Management, where he worked out NBA players such as Payton, Nate Robinson, Dwight Howard and Sonics rookie Kevin Durant.

"He helped me a lot because he's just so energetic," Durant said. "He gets after you. ... We worked out two to three times a day, and it's like the guy doesn't get tired."

Hughes approached the Sonics for a position on their staff, but serious talks never materialized. Instead, he's making an impression on Mitchell.

"Initially the title was conditioning/developmental guy, but we realize that Eric is a basketball coach, and I use him in both capacities," Mitchell said. "He understands basketball. He's a basketball lifer, and you know that in the fact that he's 43 years old and he's never been married, so that tells you a lot."

Hughes said of the coaching job: "It's something that I never really thought about doing. As my summer job evolved, it became something that I thought about but never really thought I had a chance because most people coaching in the NBA are either ex-players or have NBA experience."

Notes

• The Sonics' ratings on FSN are similar to this time last season. This season, the team is drawing a 1.5 rating, which means 1.5 percent of households within a 75-mile radius of KeyArena are tuning into Sonics games. Last season it was 1.6.

• The Sonics will conclude their Holiday Assists program with a brunch for more than 30 families at Casey Family Programs on Sunday. The families will also receive gifts and tickets to a home game. The Sonics have donated more than $50,000 and volunteered more than 250 hours through the program. Also, the team will present the King County Kinship Collaboration with a $10,000 check Thursday at the Boston game.

TORONTO
min fgm-a ftm-a or-t a pf pts
Bosh 43:32 9-21 8-10 4-13 2 3 26
Moon 11:16 2-2 0-0 0-2 0 2 4
Nesterovic 12:33 0-2 0-0 1-3 2 3 0
Parker 35:07 7-12 0-0 0-3 4 1 18
Calderon 36:36 7-15 0-0 2-7 16 3 15
Delfino 29:21 6-10 0-0 0-2 3 5 15
Humphries 19:41 4-9 2-2 1-3 1 1 10
Bargnani 13:54 2-7 0-0 2-2 1 2 4
Dixon 11:24 3-5 0-0 0-2 3 1 7
Kapono 26:36 6-10 0-0 0-2 0 1 16
Totals 46-93 10-12 10-39 32 22 115
Percentages: FG .495, FT .833. Three-point goals: 13-26, .500 (Parker 4-6, Kapono 4-7, Delfino 3-6, Dixon 1-1, Calderon 1-4, Bargnani 0-2). Team rebounds: 7. Team turnovers: 14 (17 PTS). Blocked shots: 5 (Bosh 2, Humphries 2, Nesterovic). Turnovers: 13 (Bosh 5, Delfino 2, Humphries 2, Kapono 2, Calderon, Nesterovic). Steals: 6 (Delfino 3, Humphries, Moon, Parker). Technical fouls: Defensive three second, 11:14 fourth.
SEATTLE
min fgm-a ftm-a or-t a pf pts
Wilkins 24:50 3-8 3-4 0-3 5 1 9
Wilcox 18:54 7-7 2-3 0-3 1 5 16
Thomas 23:59 1-4 2-2 1-8 2 0 4
Durant 38:00 11-18 1-1 0-2 3 1 27
Watson 25:05 4-9 0-0 0-1 7 0 10
Collison 33:28 5-8 0-0 3-10 4 2 10
Szczerbiak 25:06 8-14 3-3 0-1 2 1 23
Green 18:22 3-4 4-4 1-4 2 4 10
Ridnour 23:20 3-9 4-4 0-2 6 0 10
Gelabale 7:39 2-3 0-0 0-1 1 0 4
Petro 1:16 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Totals 47-84 19-21 5-35 33 15 123
Percentages: FG .560, FT .905. Three-point goals: 10-17, .588 (Durant 4-5, Szczerbiak 4-7, Watson 2-2, Wilkins 0-1, Ridnour 0-2). Team rebounds: 7. Team turnovers: 13 (8 PTS). Blocked shots: 10 (Thomas 3, Collison 2, Durant, Green, Ridnour, Watson, Wilkins). Turnovers: 13 (Durant 5, Watson 5, Green, Szczerbiak, Wilcox). Steals: 5 (Watson 2, Collison, Durant, Wilkins). Technical fouls: None.
Toronto 33 29 21 32 — 115
Seattle 33 23 36 31 — 123
Attendance: 13,661 (17,072). Time: 2:11. Officials: Ron Olesiak, Violet Palmer, Bill Spooner.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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