V is for victor

Ex-Jayhawk Vaughn relishes NBA crown

By Gary Bedore, KUSports.com, Sunday, June 24, 2007

Focused on winning his first NBA championship, Jacque Vaughn was in no mood to socialize — even with the best of friends — during the NBA finals. So the 6-foot-1 San Antonio Spurs backup point guard resisted any temptation to visit with former Kansas University teammate Scot Pollard until after the Spurs had completed a four-game sweep of Pollard’s Cleveland Cavaliers on June 14 at Quicken Loans Arena in Ohio. “I didn’t want our friendship to make me lose focus of what my goal was. Scot understood,” Vaughn said in a phone interview from San Antonio.

“It was tough for me to see him not win. It was part of my focus going in. I knew at the end of the day one of us would be a champion. That was tough to grasp. (But) my focus was totally on winning the championship. We did get to talk when it was over.”

Vaughn, who backed up point guard Tony Parker during the regular season and postseason, contributed to the Spurs claiming their fourth title since 1999 — Vaughn’s first crown in his 10-year NBA career. He averaged 2.0 points, 1.3 rebounds and an assist while logging 10.3 minutes per game in the short series. During the regular season, Vaughn averaged 3.0 points and 2.0 assists in 12 minutes per contest.

“My goodness, I’m just smiling every day. Every day it gets better,” Vaughn said the day after the Spurs’ victory parade and celebration. “During the process, I was so focused during each game, each possession. I didn’t let myself enjoy the whole finals atmosphere. Now that it’s over, I’ve been sitting back and looking at pictures, videos. I’m really enjoying it.”

Vaughn has been celebrating in San Antonio with his wife, Laura, and two boys, Jalen (2 years, 9 months old) and Jeremiah (11⁄2). Like Pollard, who played in just one game in the Finals, he has a home in Lawrence and will be spending time here before training camp in the fall. “I’ll definitely be back celebrating with some friends there, too,” Vaughn said. “I actually just talked to our strength coach, who gave me my offseason workout program. My mind-set is shifting. I’ll rest and think about this a week then get back at it. “The hunger is already here. It really is,” he added of next season. “I am enjoying this, but like I told my wife, I want another one (title) already.”

His many sacrifices have paid off. “The time I spend away from my family, being on the road during the season, training two to three times a day … she’s seen that,” Vaughn said of his wife. “She knows the work I’ve put into staying in the league and gaining respect in this league. “When you take that journey and come to a point you reach success, it makes me want to dedicate myself even more and push myself to another level.”

Those who know Vaughn say because of the guard’s work ethic, it was just a matter of time before he snared his first championship ring. “I think Jacque winning a title is pretty consistent with his demeanor and how consistently he’s pursued excellence,” said Jerod Haase, Vaughn’s backcourt partner at KU who now works as an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina. “This is something he deserves and has earned. He’s the consummate professional. He does things the right way and in a first-class manner. I’m really happy for him and wish him continued success in the future.”

It’s uncertain where Vaughn will play in the immediate future. A 32-year-old free agent who has been with five teams in 10 seasons, Vaughn would like to return for a second season with the Spurs. “I love it here,” said Vaughn, who earned $1,071,000 last season. “I have a great relationship with the coaches and players on the team. I am a free agent. At the same time, I will say I love this organization.

“For me at this point of my career, I want to win. That is what we do here. By far if every basketball player had the chance to play for an organization like the Spurs, they’d appreciate what they have. The talent, the opportunity … this place is run the right way.”

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has said the Spurs would like to re-sign Vaughn. Forward Robert Horry knows why. “He’s a great floor leader,” Horry told San Antonio’s Mercury News. “He D’s you up from point A to point B. He’s our little spark plug off the bench outside of Manu (Ginobili).” Vaughn definitely made a believer of GM Buford’s son, Chase, who is an incoming freshman walk-on guard at Vaughn’s alma mater, KU. “He works hard. He is a good defender, which is kind of the basis of our program,” Chase Buford said. “When we beat people, 75-72, in the finals, I’d say it (defense) has to be the basis.

“He hit some big shots for us in the playoffs. He came up big especially late in a couple games. I remember him hitting some big shots against Phoenix, and he always played good D on any good guards we went up against. He really came alive in the playoffs.”

Defense wins games in the postseason. “We were the steadiest of all teams in the playoffs. Our defense effort on a consistent basis was at a greater level than the majority of the teams,” Vaughn said. “It all starts with ‘Pop,’’’ he said of coach Gregg Popovich, who worked for Larry Brown as a volunteer assistant one year at Kansas. “‘Pop’ stresses defense, and I think as a team we took that as a challenge. We were not very good defensively at the beginning of the year. The goal is to get in position where at the end of the day you can win a championship.”

Vaughn has learned there’s no better feeling that winning the title at the highest level. “It’s an amazing feeling to start at a point where all the NBA teams start at. Everybody thinks they will be champion at the start of the season. To complete the journey is a great feeling,” Vaughn noted.

He regrets not being able to cut down the nets during his four-year KU career. He never reached a Final Four, but played on one of the best teams in Jayhawk history — the 34-2 squad that lost to eventual national champion Arizona in the Sweet 16 in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. “I do not have a championship, but that time in my life was very special,” Vaughn said. “It molded me and at that time was a crucial part in my life. I’ll never forget those years. Us losing … if we could get one of those time machines and had a chance to go back … or if it was like the NBA and it was a best of seven, maybe we’d not have been beaten. We can’t go back and change it. We all wish we could.”

“I’m thrilled for him. How many times can you win a world championship? I just wish he had a matching ring in college,” teammate Haase said. Don’t discount the possibility of Vaughn copying Haase and becoming a college coach some day. “I will continue playing as long as I love it and appreciate it and my body says I can do it,” Vaughn said. “My next career … I don’t know. Is coaching a possibility? Yes. Other things could cross my path as well.”