My Two Years in the NBA Development League
In the summer of 2010 I left a college position where I had been head men's basketball coach and athletic director for 20 years. Earlier in the year I had received a phone call from Donnie Nelson, the general manager of the Dallas Mavericks and former player of mine, telling me he was purchasing an NBA Development League team in the Dallas area and wanted me to consider coming and joining the coaching staff of the start up team. For many reasons it was the right timing for me and my family and so we took a step of faith and moved to north Dallas. The first season with the Texas Legends was a part of basketball history. I served as the top assistant to Hall of Famer, Nancy Lieberman. She was the first female to be hired as a head coach with an NBA affliated team. Nancy is truly one of the pioneers of basketball and her drive to be the best is evident in all that she pursues. Our other assistant was David Wesley, long time player in the NBA. David and I really hit it off and we had a great time serving together on the Legends staff for the next two years. Some players on our team that first year were former NBA players Antonio Daniels, Joe Alexander, Sean Williams, RaShad McCants and Reece Gaines, They had all been NBA first round draft picks at one point.
The one unique thing about the D-League is that the team's roster constantly changes throughout the season. We would regularly lose players due to NBA call ups, injuries, players being released, trades, and those opting to leave for overseas opportunities. Of course, in turn we were always trying to improve our team by adding new players. I can't tell you how many times I was sitting down with new players and walking them through our playbook. In my second season with the Legends we had some mid-season additions like NBA veterans Greg Ostertag, Dan Gadzuric, Yi Jianliain, and Kelenna Azubuike. It was always interesting hearing their stories and getting to know them on a personal level. All four of these guys fit in as team players with no ego issues. That was not always the case.
In that first season we made the playoffs in a must win situation in dramatic fashion. It was the last regular season game and we were down 9 points with less than a minute to go only to tie the game and win in overtime. Unfortunately we lost our two starting guards heading into the playoffs. Antonio Daniels was called up to the 76ers and Rashad McCants got injured. Nancy stepped down after the season to take a front office position and legendary NBA coach Del Harris took over the reigns.
I have always had such respect for Coach Harris watching from a far. I had even purchased some of his instructional tapes years earlier. Now I had a chance to work with him and draw upon his 35 years of experience in the NBA. I came into this coaching situation with 27 years of experience and a successful track record as a college head coach. Even at that I learned a great deal from Del this past year working with him. He knows the game! I've always believed that if you want to continue to be successful at whatever you do, always be willing to learn something new. Not only did he make me a better coach but he has become a very good friend. I would say the same for Nancy. Adding good friends to your life is of such great value. I made so many new friends and colleages with the Legends organization and throughout the D-League.
David Wesley and I both returned to work with Coach Harris that second year. We also had former pros, Sam Perkins and Jason Sasser help us on a part time basis. These are two great guys I really enjoyed being around. Sam was notorious for popping up in our locker room on the road just before tip-off. After the season started Del entrusted David and I to coach most of the road games. Even though I thought he had the energy of a coach half his age he thought it would be best if he didn't go through the grind of the longer D-league road trips in order to keep his good health and spend time with his family. Amoung other adjustments I needed to make coaching in the D-League, the two biggest rule changes from college to pro was the 24 second clock and the defensive 3 seconds rule. Because of the NBA lockout, there was even more fluctuation of the rosters than usual in the D-League that season. After having one of the best second half records in the league, we just missed the playoffs. At one point late in the year all of our post players were injured and for several games we would have been a small team by high school standards. Overall it was a very good year and I gained invaluable experience working under Del Harris and serving as the acting head coach for many of the games.
Of course having access to the Mavericks practices and games was a significant benefit. I was fortunate to be there the year the Mavs won the NBA Championship. I have a great deal of respect for Rick Carlisle. He is one of the top coaches around not only as an X and O guy but how he handles the players. Monte Mathis is one of the Mavs assistants I really connected with. He has a bright future in the league. One of my best memories is working with their coaching staff at the Mavs fantansy camps during the lockout.
I wouldn't trade the last two years working with the Texas Legends organization. It's been another phase in my coaching career that has prepared me for this next step. Almost 3 years ago I made the decision to leave a secure college job and pick up my family and move to Dallas, Texas. My desire was to develop as a basketball coach and more importantly to make a difference in the lives of those I came in contact with. Now I have an opportunity to continue this pursuit in India. What I always find is that while I am trying to help others they make an even more profound impact on my life. I am leaving for India with such expectations. SALT & LIGHT