Former college basketball player and longtime coach Flip Saunders was battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for some time now. Saunders succumbed to the disease on Sunday, just ahead of the start of the NBA‘s 2015-16 season. Coach Saunders was 60.
Born Philip Daniel Saunders on February 23, 1955, the future coach starred at the University of Minnesota. In his senior year, Saunders played alongside future Boston Celtics great and current Houston Rockets coach, Kevin McHale.
Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last year after returning to Minnesota to coach the NBA’s Timberwolves for a second stint and had a setback in September in where he placed assistant coach and former Toronto Raptors head coach, Sam Mitchell, in the interim role. Saunders was also the general manager for the team and his son, Ryan, worked as an assistant coach.
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Saunders first became an NBA coach in 1996 with the Timberwolves and eventually led the team to eight straight playoff appearances. A standout offensive coach, Saunders specialized in coaching point guards. But perhaps the player he had the greatest impact on was a big man, a wiry kid who came straight from high school in 1995 named Kevin Garnett. Under Saunders’ tutelage, Garnett developed into one of the best players in the NBA and eventually an MVP.
After being fired by Minnesota in 2005, Saunders was hired by the Pistons the next season and took Detroit to the conference finals for all three seasons he was on the sideline.
Saunders, after a three-year stint with the Wizards, returned to the Wolves in 2013 as team president and part-owner. In 2014 he took over again as coach. He was in the process of a major rebuilding effort following the trade of Kevin Love that included the acquisition of rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins, the engineering of Garnett’s return to mentor young players, the construction of a new downtown practice facility and a renovation of the Target Center.
There has been an outpouring of support for Coach Saunders from former players and even rival teams. Saunders was a beloved coach who never won a championship, but was credited for sparking the careers of many.
Rest in peace to Coach Flip Saunders.