Coaching Veteran Still Developing
Stampede Associate Head Coach Joel Abelson Climbing Ranks as Coach Without a Pedigree

By Travis Tate, November 5, 2010

Who is that guy?

Idaho Stampede fans have seen a young, bookish-looking guy with a seat on the sidelines for the past two years. Hey Boiseans, he’ll be there again this year and his name is Joel Abelson: Associate Head Coach of Mystery.

The most tenured coach on the Stampede coaching staff (this is his third year with the team) is yet the second-youngest coach in the NBA D-League. Not only is he the youth of the league, but he is in another minority not having played college ball, but earned an appreciation for coaching while in college at the University of Michigan.

Again, though, Abelson was not a graduate assistant, student manager or even intern with any branch of the athletics department.

“I should have done all that stuff and never did any of it,” Abelson said. “I worked at the local campus TV station and we had to create everything ourselves, which was hard.”

This is because, originally, Abelson wanted to be the next great American sports broadcaster.

“I’m big into Jon Miller, who does national ESPN baseball games and also does the San Francisco Giants for everyday radio. I really like Bob Costas, but he doesn’t do play-by-play as much as he used to, which is a little disappointing,” Abelson theorized. “I also really like the new guys, with Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen (who do nationally televised NBA games on ESPN and ABC). They’re funny together. You know who I really used to like? Tom Tolbert. I think Gus Johnson is as good as it gets.”

Abelson’s knowledge of sports broadcasters did not help him in his attempt to make a name for himself, though.

“My broadcasting career did not take off,” Abelson said. “My senior year, I volunteered at a local high school and kind of fell in love with basketball, coaching.”

So, here he is, coaching open tryout prospects in Denver, Portland and Boise; looking over tape before a game for a scouting report; manning up for the bus ride from Bismarck, North Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota; in the ear of new head man Randy Livingston, a guy whom Abelson coached with two seasons ago under Bryan Gates.

Jabes, as he is known around the Stampede organization’s headquarters, is direct, honest and excitable, equal parts basketball evaluator, logistical manager and PR guru. Mostly though, he’s just a guy who loves the game.

It came to him when, as Abelson said, he moved to New York because, “that’s what every Jewish person who went to Michigan does,” and got into real estate. It didn’t take long for Abelson to realize that location-location-location was not his primary interest.

“I basically hated every single morning that I woke up, so I took an internship with the Charlotte Bobcats in their basketball operations department, doing whatever they needed to be done,” he said.

After that internship, Abelson piled on more and more unpaid work – he worked for Joey Meyer with the Tulsa 66ers in November of 2007, worked in Las Vegas, where he trained players with Joe Abunasser, before coming to Boise to work under Bryan Gates. After that season, Abelson left again to work in San Francisco (Joel is a World Series champion Giants fan, especially bearded closer Brian Wilson) to work with former NBA coach Bob Hill, came back for the 2009-10 season to work under Bob MacKinnon and again went back to San Fran and coach Hill before coming back here again at the end of this summer.

So what has all the moving around done for Abelson’s thoughts on coaching?

“You learn how to develop guys,” Abelson said. “It’s all development over the summer. The D-League [it is called the NBA Development League, after all] is allegedly all about development, but with the rigors of the schedule and the rigors of the travel, during the season, it makes it hard to develop.”

A layman-basketball fan may think, then, that college is where the players grow their game the most. Abelson disagrees.

“College has almost nothing to do with development in most high programs,” Abelson said. “It’s all about system.”

So where do players get better?

Surprisingly, the NBA.

“The NBA, in my opinion, is the league most set up for development in the world,” Abelson said. “You’re not developing the guy guarding Chris Bosh, you’re developing guys on the depth chart 10-15 who don’t play. Shootaround is in the morning, and then everybody is off until about 5 p.m. on the day of a game – guys 10-15, some who don’t dress or some who won’t play unless it’s a total blowout, are there at 3 p.m. to play 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, get a good workout in. The good teams do that.”

And maybe that’s the road Abelson is headed down – individual player development; although, Abelson considers himself a good all-around coach. He can’t have the automatic instincts of former players like Randy Livingston and Greg Minor – but through hours and hours (which probably equates into days, weeks and months) of watching film, Abelson has come to see a different game, as if he is just now watching basketball for the first time.

“As far as what I’ve learned while in the D-League, my basketball IQ has gone from a typical, white, Jewish guy, a fan really, to really understanding; you see the game differently. Randy and Greg talk about being former players – while I don’t think it’s of the utmost importance to be a former player, you certainly have a jump on understanding the game. I sit and watch with my family and friends – they just don’t know. It’s not that they can’t understand, but they just don’t know what they’re looking at.

“One thing that has struck me is how fast the game is. I mean, the game is fast. Now for [our coaches], they can see the five guys on the court and know the play – they know where all five guys are and they just know. I’m getting to that point, but it’s been a progression. Aside from anybody telling me anything about coaching, that’s the best way to learn basketball ever: when you’re looking for something and then you watch it.”

Abelson is still a young man, but he’s quickly learning basketball. A comment about the pace of the sport can just as easily equate for a statement on his meteoric rise in the basketball coaching world.

“It’s dizzying, no question.”

[Ed. Note: On August 10, 2012, after four seasons as a Stampede assistant coach and Associate Head Coach, Abelson was hired as the Head Coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Below is the official release from the Idaho Stampede. You can also read his Q&A with here and watch his press conference here.


Abelson spent four years with Idaho franchise as assistant

BOISE, Idaho, August 10, 2012 – Former Idaho Stampede Associate Head Coach Joel Abelson was hired today by the Sioux Falls Skyforce as the team’s 15th Head Coach in franchise history.

“I’m extremely honored and excited about the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce,” said Abelson. “I look forward to immersing myself in the Sioux Falls community and leading this proud franchise back to its tradition of winning. I truly appreciate everything [Managing Investor] Bill Ilett, the Stampede organization, and fans have done for me. I will miss the Treasure Valley but am extremely excited about this opportunity and new chapter in my life.”

Abelson, 29, coached for four years with the Stampede, from 2008-2012, with the final two years as the team’s Associate Head Coach. In his time as an assistant and Associate Head Coach, Abelson coached under Bryan Gates, Bob MacKinnon and Randy Livingston.

“Our organization would like to congratulate Joel on his new position with the Skyforce. It is certainly well-deserved and we hope the best for him in his head coaching career,” said Stampede President and General Manager Steve Brandes. “Joel became entrenched in not only the Stampede franchise, but the Treasure Valley; and his dedication to player development, coaching and interaction with the community are going to be missed.”

Abelson was integral in leading the Stampede to the playoffs during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Before joining the Stampede, he worked under Head Coach Joey Meyer with the Tulsa 66ers as an assistant coach.

The University of Michigan graduate worked for the Charlotte Bobcats basketball operations in 2007 and at Abunassar Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, training multiple NBA stars. He has also spent time working at the Bob Hill Basketball Camp in 2009 and 2010. This past summer, Abelson was an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors summer league team.