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Suns’ Jeff Hornacek to be a teacher first

Can he coach?

How is he in the X’s and O’s department?

Those questions will be answered soon enough; though new Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek’s pedigree suggests he’ll do just fine in the lead chair.

“I’ve always felt that I’ve been a coach,” he said this week as he was introduced as the 16th head coach in team history. “My dad was a coach, so I’ve been around basketball since I was five years old.”

Hornacek has been around some of the best minds the game has seen. He played for Johnny Orr at Iowa State. He played for John MacLeod, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan during a 14-year NBA career.

“I’ve had a bunch of great coaches where I’ve been able to take a lot of things from,” he said.

Hornacek, considered a coach on the floor when he played, hopes to blend those influences as he takes over a team coming off a 25-win season.

“I really enjoy teaching the game,” he said, “trying to inspire doing the little things; get guys to play team basketball.”

It’s why he returned to the game seven years after he retired in 2000. He joined the Jazz as a shooting coach in 2007, working specifically with Andrei Kirilenko. He then became an assistant coach in 2010 and continued to work with young players Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

“Jeff’s work with the Jazz over the past six years has drawn rave reviews and has given us great confidence that he’ll make each of our players better individually,” GM Ryan McDonough said.

But it’s the development of the young players — guys like Kendall Marshall, Marcus and Markieff Morris — where Hornacek is expected to have his greatest impact. And with the possible addition of three draft picks, including two first round selections, the Suns could be looking at a 2013-14 roster with as many as eight players with less than three years of experience.

“I think that there are so many pro guys now that are one-and-done or didn’t get the teaching in college and they come to the NBA level and they don’t know a lot of this stuff,” Hornacek said. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years of being on the bench is you can’t assume these guys know some of the stuff maybe we learned back in college because they haven’t had that experience.

“(Players) really do want to learn,” he continued. “That’s what’s great about the young players that I’ve come across these last three years. Looking at our roster, the young guys—they may look at you funny and think it goes in one ear and out the other, but deep down, they want to learn. They want to get better. They want to improve. They want to get to a top level, so for me to be here at this level and be able to teach is perfect.”

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