Lester Conner

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Lester Conner
Personal information
Born (1959-09-17) September 17, 1959 (age 57)
Memphis, Tennessee
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Listed weight 180 lb (82 kg)
Career information
High school Fremont (Oakland, California)
College
NBA draft 1982 / Round: 1 / Pick: 14th overall
Selected by the Golden State Warriors
Playing career 1982–1997
Position Shooting guard
Number 15, 32, 7, 12
Coaching career 1998–present
Career history
As player:
19821986 Golden State Warriors
1986–1987 Rapid City Thrillers
1987–1988 Houston Rockets
19881991 New Jersey Nets
19911992 Milwaukee Bucks
1993 Los Angeles Clippers
1993–1994 Rapid City Thrillers
1994 Indiana Pacers
1995 Los Angeles Lakers
1996–1997 Florida Beach Dogs
As coach:
1998 Boston Celtics (assistant)
2004–2005 Philadelphia 76ers (assistant)
2005–2007 Milwaukee Bucks (assistant)
2007–2010 Indiana Pacers (assistant)
20102013 Atlanta Hawks (assistant)
20132015 Denver Nuggets (assistant)
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 4,337 (6.3 ppg)
Assists 2,669 (3.9 apg)
Steals 1,085 (1.6 spg)
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com

Lester Allen Conner (born September 17, 1959) is an American professional basketball coach and former professional basketball player, who played for numerous NBA teams. On the floor at the collegiate level the 6'4" Conner was a "swingman," playing both the shooting guard and small forward positions, earning high collegiate honors as the 1982 Pac-10 Player of the Year.

Conner was the 14th selection in the first round of the 1982 NBA Draft, selected by his hometown Golden State Warriors, for whom he played the first four years of his 12 season NBA career. In the NBA Conner was a "combo guard," playing both the shooting guard and point guard positions. His NBA career was interrupted by one year played with the league champion Rapid City Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Association.

Following his retirement at the end of the 1994-95 season, Conner turned his attention to coaching, beginning as an assistant to Boston Celtics head coach Rick Pitino in 1998 and continuing for more than 15 years.

Biography[edit]

Lester Conner was born September 17, 1959 in Memphis, Tennessee. He grew up in Oakland, California, where he attended the ethnically diverse Fremont High School.[1] Although he played high school basketball for the Fremont Tigers, he was far from a star at the time, starting sporadically.[1] No elite collegiate basketball programs beat down his door and Conner found himself relegated to pursuing an alternate path forward in his chosen sport.

Collegiate career[edit]

Junior College[edit]

In 1978, Conner enrolled at Los Medanos Junior College in Antioch, California, where his game expanded dramatically. Conner achieved star status, averaging 25.2 points per game in leading his team to a 24-7 record.[1] He moved on to Chabot Junior College in Castro Valley, California for the 1979-80 season, achieving similar results in becoming the co-recipient of the California Junior College Player of the Year honors.[1] From being a largely unheralded high school player, Conner found himself a blue chip prospect as a transfer player, pursued by some of the leading collegiate programs in America.

1980-81[edit]

One chief suitor included Jerry Tarkanian, head coach of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, whose program Conner found attractive.[1] Another was Oregon State University, a program headed by gruff veteran head coach Ralph Miller, a future member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Conner requested that Miller travel to see him play in person, a bold request that one writer has likened to "asking the Pope to say grace at Thanksgiving dinner."[2] Nevertheless, Miller acceded to Conner's wishes and ultimately managed to win Conner's commitment to take a scholarship with the program nearly a month after the end of the April signing period.[1]

Conner quickly won a starting role with the team, opening up the 1980-81 season playing small forward next to future NBA players Steve Johnson, Mark Radford, Ray Blume, and Charlie Sitton.[3] The team was regarded from opening day as one of the powers of college basketball, bringing back the nucleus of a team that had finished the previous year with a record of 26-4 as the 5th ranked team in America.[3] Conner would produce for much of the year off the bench as an invaluable sixth man, gaining notice as a highly skilled passer, gritty rebounder, and lock-down defensive specialist.[4]

Seven wins out the gate brought the Beavers a #2 national ranking, which soon became #1 when Oregon State kept winning while the previously top-ranked DePaul Blue Demons fell to Old Dominon, 63-62, on January 10, 1981.[5] The DePaul result was announced in the midst of an OSU annihilation of the Cal Golden Bears, with the home team up 56-28, bringing the crowd of 10,087 to a deafening standing ovation lasting more than a minute.[6]

The 1980-81 Beavers flirted with perfection, going 26-0 before suffering a shocking 20 point home loss to Alton Lister, Fat Lever, and the 24-3 Arizona State Sun Devils to close the year.[7] The season would then end in unmitigated disaster with a crushing early loss to Kansas State, 64-60, in the 1981 NCAA Tournament.[7] Conner would finish the year fourth on the team in scoring, with an average of 7.0 points per game, and pulling down 119 rebounds — second on the Beavers to star 6'11" center Steve Johnson.[8]

1981-82[edit]

Conner's senior season, 1981-82, looked like trouble for Oregon State, with both guards and center Steve Johnson leaving for the NBA, along with two rotation players, with those lost needing to be replaced by athletes of clearly lesser talent. Fully 71% of the offense from OSU's previous season was erased by the loss of the departures, along with 53% of the team's rebounds.[9] The arch-rival UCLA Bruins entered the year with a #2 ranking; expectations for OSU to repeat as conference champions were extremely low.[9]

The Beavers had a new tool in the kit, however, with the addition of an acclaimed 6'8" freshman from Benson High School in Portland named A.C. Green, who narrowly chose OSU over coach George Raveling and Washington State University.[10] Together with the maturation and improvement of pesky defensive guard William Brew and angular small forward Danny Evans, and the return of the versatile Charlie Sitton, the Beavers found themselves with a more than capable roster that racked up a Pac-10 conference record of 16-2 en route to a third straight conference title.[11]

Conner played mostly at the 2-guard position during his senior year, while frequently sharing the chore of advancing the ball against pressure. He proved his mettle as a passer, finishing the season as the Pac-10's leader in assists, with an average of 5.1 assists per game.[12] While the over-achieving Beavers again found themselves knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before they were ready, they managed to win games in their first two rounds before running into Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, and the Georgetown Hoyas and a 24-point drubbing.[13]

Conner would finish the year as the team's scoring leader, with an average of 14.6 points per game, as well as the team's rebounding leader, with 145 boards — topping power forward A.C. Green's total of 141.[14]

During his two years as a Beaver, Conner helped lead the team to a record of 52 wins and 6 losses, a winning percentage of .897.[15]

Conner was voted the 1982 Pac-10 Player of the Year, following his Oregon State teammate Steve Johnson as recipient of the award,[16] and was tapped as a 1982 AP All-American.[15] He was remembered by OSU boss Ralph Miller as one of the top five defensive players he coached during his 38 season career.[1]

Professional career[edit]

Conner was drafted in 1982 as the 14th pick overall, by the Golden State Warriors, and played with the Warriors for 4 seasons. He would later play for the Houston Rockets, and serve two stints with both the New Jersey Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, finishing his NBA career with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Indiana Pacers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. He ended his NBA playing days in 1995. He earned the nickname "The Molester" for his ball-stealing defensive play.[17]

Coaching career[edit]

Conner began his NBA coaching career in 1998 as an assistant to head coach Rick Pitino of the Boston Celtics.[18] Conner credits Pitino with teaching him to project his voice from the bench, shouting instructions that cut through the din of an NBA arena.[18]

He also was twice the assistant coach in Milwaukee for head coach Terry Stotts, leaving after Stotts was fired following the 2006-2007 season.

Conner is considered a protege of former Indiana Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien and has worked under O'Brien on three separate occasions. The first was with the Boston Celtics from 2001-04. The second was as associate head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2004-05 season. In June, 2007, Conner moved to Indiana, to once again work for O'Brien and the Pacers.

In 2010, Conner joined Larry Drew as his top assistant at the Atlanta Hawks, leaving the team following Drew's termination at the end of the 2012-13 NBA Season. Conner joined the Denver Nuggets for the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach.

Conner has expressed an interest in returning to his alma mater, Oregon State University, as a head coach, but was informed in 2014 by Beaver Athletic Director Bob De Carolis of the university's unwillingness to make the job available to him due to Conner's lack of a college degree.[19] Conner expressed lament at the university's refusal to consider him for what he called "the only university job I want" owing to lack of academic qualification.[19]

"I understand the importance of having the degree," Conner told an interviewer from the Portland Oregonian in May 2014. "But at the same time, that doesn't define who I am or what I am as a coach and as a person." [19]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g K.J. White, Miller's Time: A Legacy of OSU Basketball, 1971-1989. Portland, OR: Highland Times Press, 1997; pg. 65.
  2. ^ The quote is that of K. J. White in Miller's Time, pg. 65.
  3. ^ a b White, Miller's Time, pg. 63.
  4. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 69.
  5. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 66.
  6. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 67.
  7. ^ a b White, Miller's Time, pg. 71.
  8. ^ "1980-81 Oregon State Beavers Roster and Stats," Sports-Reference.com/
  9. ^ a b White, Miller's Time, pg. 74.
  10. ^ White, Miller's Time, pp. 74-75.
  11. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 73.
  12. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 81.
  13. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 81.
  14. ^ "1981-82 Oregon State Beavers Roster and Stats," Sports-Reference.com/
  15. ^ a b "Lester Conner," NBA Coach File, www.nba.com/
  16. ^ White, Miller's Time, pg. 91.
  17. ^ "Lester Conner," BasketballReference.com, www.basketball-reference.com/
  18. ^ a b Michael Cunningham, "Conner Adds His Voice to Hawks," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 14, 2010.
  19. ^ a b c Connor Letourneau, "Beavers Great Lester Conner Loses Sleep Over Oregon State Head Coaching Vacancy," The Oregonian, May 13, 2014.

External links[edit]