All in the Family

By Blake Timm

 

Kyle Motta '07 spent a lot of time growing up around professional basketball, but one night in 1991 at the Seattle Center Coliseum was like no other.

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That night, the six-year-old had a choice to spend the evening with his father or his grandfather. Kyle's father, Kip, was an assistant coach for the hometown Seattle Supersonics. His grandfather, Dick, was in town as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Kyle's choice: spend the night with grandpa on the Kings bench.

His choice gave Kyle a front row seat to a great show. It wasn't long before, in a display very characteristic of his coaching style, Dick found himself thrown out of the game. So, grandfather and grandson watched the rest of the Kings' 120-106 loss from the locker room.

"His grandpa always told him that the reason he got kicked out is because he wanted to spend more time with him," Kip Motta recalls. Dick, however, remembers otherwise. "When I left to go to the dressing room, I told Kyle to take over and don't make any mistakes," he said with a laugh.

Such is the life for a kid who grows up around the National Basketball Association (NBA), and such is life growing up in the Motta family.

THE SON

While Kyle Motta spent half of his life around the NBA, you wouldn't know it from his play or his attitude. While some NBA stars give less than 100 percent or look to score first, Motta hustles. He makes free throws. He passes first. And unless you ask or recognize the Motta name, he won't volunteer his experiences around the halls of basketball's elite.

Kyle grew up admiring the likes of his dad's charges on the Sonics' roster, but his style of play, he said, is nothing but his own. "I remember going up on a little Mattel hoop pretending I was Shawn Kemp or Gary Payton or Xavier McDaniel," Kyle said, but "I never really tried to emulate anyone with my game. I just play like me."

It's a good thing, because his style is far removed from that of the professional ranks today or even the Division I college level. Nicknamed "Mr. Fundamental" for his solid skills and knowledge of the game, Kyle has been a key component in second-year head coach Jason Lowery's quest to rebuild the Pacific men's basketball program.

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After seeing spot time as a substitute his first two years, Kyle found himself thrust into a starting spot in Lowery's first season. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he's considered an undersized post player. He excelled by sheer will, averaging over nine points per game and ranking among the Northwest Conference leaders in rebounds and blocked shots.

This season, as the only senior on the team, Kyle has found himself a leader on a team that has begun a Forest Grove basketball renaissance. With the burden of scoring reduced by the presence of two larger posts in Ross Bartlett '09 and Joe Van Domelen '08, Kyle has concentrated on defense. Once again, Kyle is among the conference leaders in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and blocked shots.

Not bad for a kid considered undersized for a guard, let alone a small forward. "He plays bigger than he is and usually plays harder than the guys playing against him," Lowery said. "He  reminds me of (former Stanford star and current Minnesota Timberwolves reserve) Mark Madsen. He gives you everything he has."

Pacific was the perfect fit for Motta, who found himself looking for opportunities to play after graduating in 2003 from Rich High School in Randolph, Utah. His size and lack of speed made programs think twice about the lanky forward.

Despite the family's long history with Carroll College Coach Gary Turcott, father of Boxers' point guard Ryan Turcott '08, the coach doubted Kyle could make the Saints' roster. "He said I wasn't quick enough to be a guard and not big enough to play a big guy," Kyle said.
After visits at Albertson College of Idaho and Whitman College, Kyle finally settled on Pacific and the chance that then-head coach Ken Schumann was offering. While he couldn't guarantee Kyle a roster spot, Schumann said he would at the least redshirt him (hold out of games) for a year, giving Kyle a chance to prove himself on the court.
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However, in the end, Motta's hard work made the redshirt unnecessary. Kyle saw limited minutes as a freshman and then came off the bench as a sophomore in all 25 games, providing the Boxers a needed spark in a season where Pacific would win only five games.

With Lowery's arrival in 2005, the Boxers found themselves lacking size. Kyle was the third tallest man on the roster and the only post player with any college playing experience. Lowery put Kyle into a starting role.

He flourished. Kyle's hard-nosed style of play made him one of the Boxers' top scorers and rebounders, ranking second on the team in both field goal percentage and rebounding. His desire and street sense on the court made him a go-to player. In three of the Boxers' 10-victories in 2005-06, Motta won the games from the free throw line with just seconds remaining.

While both his father and grandfather would have loved to have seen him make it at the Division I level, both know that Pacific is the right place for Kyle. The Division III game suits him best.

"If he were two inches taller and a half a step quicker, he'd have a chance to be a big time player," Dick said. "As it is, in our opinion, he's right where he belongs. He's getting a good education and really enjoying himself. He loves his teammates and he loves the school. To see him develop in that way has been very good."

Kip is grateful that both Schumann and Lowery provided the opportunity for his son to flourish in a game that has been part of the family since the 1940s. "I knew that if he was given the chance that he would play hard, play smart, and that he could play given the right opportunity. That's what is so wonderful about Pacific. It's been a wonderful opportunity for him."

THE FAMILY TREE

Considering the Motta family, it is no surprise that Kyle ended up on the basketball court. Before his 10-year career as a NBA and college assistant coach, Kip was a standout basketball player at the University of Montana-Western. His mother, Joanna, also excelled at the game and was inducted into Montana-Western's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.

MottaThen there is the patriarch. After stints as a high school and college coach, Dick Motta made a name for himself with a 25-year career guiding NBA teams in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Sacramento, and Denver. His 1978 Washington Bullets won the NBA championship, and his 935 wins rank him eighth among the NBA's winningest coaches, just three victories behind legendary Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach.

Father and son even worked together. Kip joined Dick's staff for the elder Motta's final three seasons as a head coach: two in Dallas and one in Denver.

"You're going to be around basketball in our family, whether you want it or not," Dick said.
Being around the NBA provided Kyle experiences that most young boys only dream of. He spent many an evening as a ball boy, shagging balls and wiping up sweat during games. He's mixed Gatorade for the Kings, Sonics, and Trail Blazers. He recalls dinner at his parent's house in Dallas with Popeye Jones, Jason Kidd, and other members of the Mavericks.
And, of course, there was as much play as anything else. "I was real big into soccer and baseball," Kyle said. "I remember picking up a basketball when I was really young. I played all kinds of sports. I enjoyed basketball and did well at it, but I wasn't really pushed towards it."

Despite the family's basketball lineage, Kip was careful not to push his son towards the family game. "We never pushed him to be an athlete," Kip recalls. "It was something he naturally wanted to do."

When he finally decided to focus on basketball, however, it was Kyle who had to do the convincing. "I almost had to physically take my dad aside and say, ‘Hey, I really want to focus on this and I want some help after school.' In his mind, he didn't want to push me that way. It took me asking, ‘Will you help me.'"

Once father and son connected, Kyle fed off of Kip's steady diet of drills. Ball-handling drills. Lay-in drills. Defensive drills. It was a father and son basketball camp from ninth grade all of the way to his senior year in college with the same drills Kip used with his NBA charges years earlier.

Kip uses those same drills with his current junior high team. His philosophy: the skills are always the same, you just teach them at a different level. "It's still teaching kids to set screens, how to shoot, and how to dribble," Kip said.

Those hours of skills work for Kyle paid off. He went on to be named 1A All-State in Utah in three of his four high school years. His senior season, Kyle led Rich High to the 2003 state championship final. The title game run was chronicled in a documentary about Utah small high school basketball, entitled "Where It Is Still A Game" (produced by Stone Chapel Films).

Kip credits much of Kyle's success to his defense, a hallmark of Motta basketball. At every level, the Mottas have taught that you can have an "off night" offensively, but you can never have a bad night playing defense. It's all about effort, of which Kyle has an unending supply.

Most importantly, however, Kip believes the biggest part of his son's success comes from learning to be a team player first and foremost.

"One of the things I am proudest of is that no matter what happens, he has always been a great team player," Kip said. "He's the kind of kid you would love to have on your team and coach because, no matter what happens, he's cheering on his team and will never do anything to damage the integrity of the team."

It helps that Kyle has a good team working for him. While Kip hones his son's skills, Kyle calls his grandfather after every game to tap his coaching mind.

THE END OF THE LINE

Unlike Dick and Kip, Kyle Motta will not leave college for a coaching job. Following graduation in May with a major in physics, Kyle will turn to graduate school with plans to become a civil or aerospace engineer. He would like to enroll at Utah State University in Logan, not far from the family home in Fish Haven, Idaho.

Kyle has no dreams of being involved in the NBA like his father and grandfather. He is noncommittal to coaching at any level. "If the opportunity arises, maybe. Right now I am thinking about getting through school and getting into grad school. We'll see what happens."

A future in basketball is on the backburner. Father and grandfather couldn't be happier.
"I am happy that he's not going into coaching," Dick said. "Maybe he can get someplace where he can make a living. I tried to discourage Kip from going into coaching, but to no avail."

Twenty-five years was enough time in the pros for Dick, 75, and he likely won't coach a team again. If he did, however, he would love to bring the youngest of the Motta men back in with him.

"I would have him on my team, no matter what level," Dick said. "I could turn my back and I would know that he was going to hustle, that he would be loyal, that he would know how to pass and play defense."

And while Kip continues to teach basketball, he is happy to see his son create his own path.
"I'm not disappointed at all," Kip said. "In fact, I'm proud that he has turned out smarter than his dad and grandpa. That's a good thing."

 

 


No NBA Dreaming

While the entire Motta family came of age in and around the National Basketball Association, it is furthest thing from their minds these days.

Much has changed in the professional game since Kip and Dick Motta left the Denver Nuggets following the 1996 season.  The game of set offenses and stifling defenses that father and son taught has given way to a wide-open game that thrives on outside shooting and show-stopping dunks.

"You don't need a coach to do that," said Dick Motta, who coached the 1978 Washington Bullets to the NBA title.  "Everything is pick-and-roll, penetrate, kick out and shoot a three-point shot."

Even the youngest of the Mottas, Kyle, doesn't pay much attention to the NBA, which caters its product to younger audiences.  Quite frankly, it doesn't interest him much.  "I watch some, but it seems like a one-on-one game," the Boxer forward said.  "There's no offense.  It's just take your best player and let him go to work."

Kyle's father, Kip, continues to coach basketball at the junior high level.  He continues to preach fundamentals and defense, like he did with his NBA charges, but he feels both are a lost art at the professional level today.

"What I coached and what my dad always coached was intricate set play offenses with continuity," Kip said.  "It seems like anymore all you get is dribble, dribble, dribble, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, dribble and shoot."

If there is one thing that hasn't changed, all three Mottas agree, is the athleticism within the Association.

"The thing that has always amazed mw in the NBA is the athletic ability of the players," Kip said.  "That's always been a standout to me."

But even that athleticism isn't enough to hook one of the league's most successful coaches.  Despite 25 years coaching teams in the NBA, Dick Motta hardly watches the game anymore.  He will occasionally travel to Salt Lake City to watch the Utah Jazz.  Their head coach, Jerry Sloan, played under Dick for several seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Sometimes Dick will turn a game on while he working in his home office.  "But if Without a Trace or NCIS or any of those shows come on, I don't even think about basketball," he said.

-- Blake Timm