SACRAMENTO - There was an apprenticeship as an assistant at Louisville. There were two seasons as a head coach at New Mexico State. There were some stints with limited responsibility in other college and summer-league venues. But it is not a stretch to say that

Reggie Theus

began his improbable trek to head-coaching status in the NBA in, of all places, the practice gym in Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Thank you, Larry Brown.

"He was one of two people who reached out to me and allowed me to be involved - Larry and Kiki Vandeweghe," recalled Theus, in his first season directing the Sacramento Kings, the 76ers' opponent tonight in the opener of a six-game Western swing.

Brown, now the Sixers' executive vice president, was then their coach. Vandeweghe was the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. Both were sufficiently secure in their beliefs that they welcomed a former league star whom basically no one - other than Theus - ever believed would become a coach.

"I just remember getting a call from Reggie, asking if he could come and observe practice," Brown recalled. "I told him to take part in it if he wanted to. I liked the way he played; I liked that he always had a smile on his face. I love it when players want to get back involved.

"I had him come to the annual coaching clinic John Calipari has in Memphis; Cal allows everybody to chime in, and we found out that Reggie has a lot to offer. I wasn't surprised, because he had played in college for Jerry Tarkanian, one of the most underrated coaches of all time, and he had worked with [Rick] Pitino.

"He might be better prepared today to coach in the pros because of his 2 years coaching in college. In the pros now, you're dealing with college-age kids in a lot of cases, and he's already done that."

Theus, admittedly "stunned" when he was told he would be the Kings' coach this season, hasn't forgotten the kick-start offered by Brown.

"I asked to observe rookie camp, and he invited me to veterans camp, too," Theus said. "That's who he is. He's always been very straight-forward with me. I remember talking to him about a job as an assistant coach; he said he always reached out first to guys he had worked with in the past. I respected that. I was still working as a commentator for TNT, so I had my way of staying involved with the game."

But for those who are equally "stunned" that Theus - who found success as a basketball analyst, as a regular in a TV comedy series and in several roles in motion pictures - is an NBA coach, Theus has an explanation.

"Most people who think that didn't know me," he said. "This is who I've always been. All the other things surrounding my life were much more fun to talk about and believe in."

I think . . .

New Sixers president/general manager

Eddie Stefanski

really hasn't determined whether to trade or keep point guard

Andre Miller

. But here's a factor to consider: While the Sixers, even if they keep Miller, can get their payroll more than $14 million under the cap this summer, they will be constrained by league rules covering the status of players who will be restricted free agents. An element called a "cap hold" means that, until their status changes,

Andre Iguodala

will count on the cap at nearly $9 million and

Lou Williams

will count at about $4 million. For the time being, that means Stefanski will have about $5 million to $6 million in actual cap space. And, because the Sixers will be under the cap, they will not have access to the annual average salary exception.

Coaching 101

Larry Brown, 2 years removed from a head-coaching job, hasn't lost his passion.

"We've got to make an effort to start teaching more," he said. "We're dealing with so many young players, and while I don't mean everybody, the AAU situation is really hurting our game. Sometimes, they go to a tournament, play four games in 1 day, and they might not know who won. It's star vs. star, and the others are just out there.

"Take Lou Williams [directly out of high school] or Kevin

Durant [one college season];

we have a responsibility to teach them, a responsibility to see those kids reach their potential." *

Send e-mail to jasnerp@phillynews.com.