INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — John Beilein was out of bed before the sun came up and on his treadmill before 6 a.m. Monday.
The oldest, first-time, non-interim coach in NBA history was too excited about his new job with the Cleveland Cavaliers to sleep in.
“This is great,” the 66-year-old Beilein said, surveying the media day scene at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I’m thrilled to be in this position. College basketball has been so good to me, but I just love this new change in my personal life.
“I’m not concerned about anything, I’m optimistic. We’re going to have this incredible mindset all year long and we’re going to represent the Cavaliers’ history.”
Beilein took a leap of faith on May 13, signing a multiyear contract with Cleveland after spending 12 seasons — with two national championship game appearances — at Michigan.
He compiled an 829-468 record in 41 years at the college level and is one of 14 coaches to take four Division I schools to the NCAA Tournament (Michigan, West Virginia, Richmond and Canisius).
“For him at Michigan, he did everything he could do there, so I think he’s excited about the challenge,” said center Tristan Thompson, the longest-tenured member of the Cavaliers in his ninth season. “It’s a new chapter for him and for us. We’re excited, too.”
Beilein takes over a franchise in full rebuilding mode, just 15 months removed from its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance and the subsequent departure of four-time MVP LeBron James to the Lakers in free agency.
Cleveland was 19-63 last season and went through two coaches in Tyronn Lue and Larry Drew, but rookie point guard Collin Sexton was named to the All-Rookie second team and power forward Larry Nance Jr. made significant strides.
“Last season wasn’t a real good season for us overall, but it’s a different culture with our new coach and his staff coming in,” Sexton said. “Everyone is going to put their part into it.”
Power forward Kevin Love, point guard Matthew Dellavedova and Thompson were members of the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship team that ended the city’s 52-year title drought.
Beilein said he will rely on their veteran knowledge throughout training camp and made a pair of summer trips to New York to get acquainted with marquee player Love.
“The biggest thing I took away from it was his wife loves New York City,” Love quipped. “We wound up spending a week or 10 days together, which was good to open up a dialogue. After getting to know him a little bit, I believe (our rebuild) is going to move a little faster than people expect.”
Though Beilein has earned a reputation as a great teacher, questions abound about his lack of pro experience and his wealth of birthdays. He was 17 when Cleveland entered the league in 1970 and is coaching a starting backcourt of 19-year-old rookie Darius Garland and the 20-year-old Sexton.
Nance scoffed at the suggestion that Beilein will be unable to cope with the demands of the NBA season or be able to relate to his young guards.
“Do I worry about Coach’s energy? He has more energy than I do,” Nance said. “It’s really exciting to see how energetic he is because that’s what you want as a player. You want that excitement.
“Coach Beilein has won at every level he’s been at, so what makes this any different?”
Garland, the No. 5 overall draft pick, is fully recovered from the left knee surgery that ended his season after five games. He averaged 16.2 points and 2.6 assists in his final year at Vanderbilt.
“I’m ready, there’s nothing else to say,” Garland said. “Going from college, only playing five games, won’t be easy, but I’m ready. Some guys around the league take some nights off, but we’re going to play hard for 82 games.”
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who traditionally attends media day, was not in attendance as he continues to recover from a May 26 stroke. The Michigan resident returned home in late August after undergoing intensive therapy at a Chicago rehabilitation facility. .
Several team officials privately shared their memories of longtime television play-by-play broadcaster Fred McLeod, who passed away suddenly on Sept. 9.
Beilein compared the state of the Cavaliers to their home arena, which underwent a $185 million renovation over the past two offseasons and reopened last weekend.
“Just like Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, they didn’t have to knock it down and build another one,” he said. “But they did have to rebuild to fit with the times.”