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Warriors Coach Praises Santa Cruz's Inaugural Season

Bjorkgren boosts Golden State Warriors, starts work on next season

All  Santa Cruz Bay Area pro basketball fans will have their eyes focused on the happenings Thursday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

That's where the No. 6-seed Golden State Warriors will try to eliminate the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in Game 6 and advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Now that the inaugural NBA Development League season is over for the Santa Cruz Warriors, the focus is on the parent  Warriors who hold a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven first-round series. Golden State is back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 No. 8-seed   "We Believe" team shocked the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks 4-2. Those Warriors lost to the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz in the second round 4-1; these Warriors hope to earn a date with the No. 2-seed San Antonio Spurs, who eliminated the No. 7 Lakers in four straight games, and take it from there.

One of those who will be watching the action firsthand will be Santa Cruz Warriors basketball coach Nate Bjorkgren, who will be moving on to the next part of his job. His team just finished as runner-up in the D-League when it was swept in the Finals in two straight games by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. And now Bjorkgren will be helping out Golden State head coach Mark Jackson and his other assistants.

While his immediate focus is on the parent club, he took time out Wednesday to discuss the first year and future of the Santa Cruz Warriors. They came into existence when the local City Council approved the team on May 22, 2012. Six weeks earlier the owners of Golden State had announced their intent to relocate the Dakota Wizards from Bismarck, N.D.

"Obviously we're going to try and get better," Bjorkgren said about his team which finished with a record of 36-20 including 4-2 in three playoff series. "We want to compete for the title again. We want to win the division (they were second in the Western Division this season to the Bakersfield Jam) and we want to win a championship. Of course, it's tough to do,  but that is our ultimate goal."

What did he like most about the season just concluded?

"We really liked our team defense and our rebounding," Bjorkgren said. "I think it was not so much a surprise,  but that it was better than expected ... that we played defense at such a high level which is hard to do in the D-League. And the players found out the better we played defense, the better our offense was because it got us going."

What didn't he like?

"I think we have to work on committing less turnovers," he said. "But they weren't selfish ones. By that, I mean they happened when they were working on doing something positive for the team, not because they were going one-on-one or trying to do too much themselves."

The coach said that he wasn't really concerned with the poor free-throw shooting that occurred in the playoffs and proved to be costly. "I think our foul shooting was good during the season," he commented. "It just wasn't (good) down the stretch. It's not something we did wrong, it's just something that hit us at a bad time."

One of the key things about next season is that there's no telling who will be coming to training camp, much less an anticipated roster.

"Late October is when a decision will be made (on next year's personnel)," Bjorkgren said. "Probably only four or five guys will be back. Some will go overseas, some to NBA camps, some will play in the NBA Summer League."

That means some of the fans' favorites won't be coming back. And there were many the fans embraced that finished the season on the playoff roster -- centers Hilton Armstrong, Jeremy Tyler and Mickell Gladness, forwards Lance Goulbourne and Taylor Griffin, guards Scott Machado, Stefhon Hannah and Daniel Nwaelele and swingmen Travis Leslie, Cameron Jones and Darington Hobson. Bjorkgren reported that Griffin, who sprained his ankle in the final game and spent a few days on crutches, is back walking normally again and will be fine when next season rolls around.

Machado has been recalled by the Golden State Warriors and is on the playoff roster, joining Kent Bazemore, another NBA Warriors guard who started the season in Santa Cruz.

While the players will be leaving town and won't be working out at Kaiser Permanente Arena during the offseason, Bjorkgren will be extremely busy when he isn't at home in Capitola with his wife Heidi, 3-year-old Kaylee and 8-month-old Jarrett.

"I'll be all over," Bjorkgren said. "Santa Cruz, Oakland, on the road ... I'll be doing a lot of traveling and talking to Coach Jackson and the assistants and going to camps. And I'll be working closely with (Santa Cruz general manager) Kirk Lacob. We've worked well together all year ... I  have a conversation with him every day, either in person, by e-mail or text."

Bjorkgren didn't want to miss out on a final chance to compliment the fans that filled Kaiser Permanente Arena -- built in three months after construction began on Sept. 18, 2012 and opened on Dec. 23, 2012 when the  Warriors beat the Bakersfield Jam 93-88.

"They created an electric atmosphere," the coach said about the extremely noisy crowds that produced 21 sellouts in 27 games and saw 26 victories. "Our players fed off it, and it energized our team immeasurably."

He also credits the Golden State Warriors, who have rabid fans despite making the playoffs only twice in the past 19 years, yet still flocked to Oracle Arena during the down years. 

"The Warriors have had an excellent fan base for years," Bjorkgren said. "And I think the excitement in Santa Cruz started at the top of the franchise ... the fan base just carried over to our city. 

"I'll be at the game (Thursday) night and can't wait either. It's going to be very exciting."

Just like the seasons have been for both the Big W's and the Little W's.

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