Originally created 04/24/04

Kukoc quietly helps young Bucks



ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Toni Kukoc isn't the flashy type.

He refuses to harp on his heady days in Chicago when he was winning three championships with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

"He hasn't even brought his rings around trying to show them off," fellow Milwaukee Bucks forward Joe Smith said Friday. "I think that's a good thing. That shows that he's still hungry for another one."

It's also evidence that Kukoc, whose 93 games of playoff experience is the most of any player in the Detroit-Milwaukee series, doesn't want to come off as cocky.

"Only if they ask me things will I speak up," Kukoc said. "I don't want to force anything like I'm the smartest guy because I played in the Finals a couple of times."

At 35, Kukoc is basketball's quiet sage, delivering advice when asked or when he sees something that merits an immediate huddle.

Such was the case when he called together his teammates Wednesday night as the Bucks were about to blow what was left of a 15-point fourth-quarter lead.

The Bucks heeded his warnings to stay aggressive to beat the trap and tied the series at 1. Game 3 is Saturday in Milwaukee.

Kukoc's performance was anything but hushed in Game 2, when he scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.

"He played great," Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "He defended his position, he kept loose balls alive and he made some big shots. He's been there before, and he's going to have big games like that.

"When you've got a young team, having a guy who has been through this and won championships can be a key."

Bucks general manager Larry Harris considers himself lucky to have Kukoc around after the team jettisoned veterans Sam Cassell, Ervin Johnson, Anthony Mason and Ray Allen last year.

"If you look across the board with all eight series that are taking place, the biggest thing right now is the experienced teams are winning out," Harris said. "You've got a team like Memphis, our team is a young team, Denver is a young team. These teams are trying to find how to win games whether it be at home or on the road against veteran teams, and that's the element he brings.

"Although he's a quiet guy, he does bring a lot of experience that I think is very good for our younger players. I think it's invaluable."

Detroit's Ben Wallace agrees.

"The playoffs are always about experience," he said. "Kukoc knows what it is like to win championships and fight for championships, so that is definitely going to give his team an edge."

Bucks coach Terry Porter asked Kukoc to speak at the team's film sessions prior to the series so his younger teammates might know what to expect.

"I never intend to come out and make these beautiful speeches about the world and all that stuff," Kukoc said. "But I'll talk as much as I think is necessary."

Starting point guard Damon Jones and sixth man Desmond Mason have sought his advice during the postseason.

"Toni's like your question and answer guy about the game of basketball," Smith said. "He's been in this situation numerous times, so whenever something's going wrong on the court or any type of situation comes up, you can go ask Toni about it and he's always open to give you advice."

Just don't ask to see his rings.