Not many 40-year-olds can say they have over 16 years of coaching under their belt, but for the Erie BayHawks new head coach Gene Cross, it’s an undying love for basketball that keeps him drawn to the sport.
“I always have had a passion for the game and tried to work hard in making sure I was successful,” Cross said. “You know, it’s been a long journey and I continue to grow through the ups and downs of my experiences as a coach.”
The Erie BayHawks named Cross as their new head coach Wednesday after Jay Larranga stepped down to take an assistant coaching job with the Boston Celtics. Cross joins the BayHawks after spending last season as an assistant coach for the Iowa Energy. He has a beefy coaching resume that includes coaching at the professional level with the Maine Red Claws and Utah Flash, and on the collegiate level at places like Notre Dame and University of Toledo.
It was widely reported that the New York Knicks, the BayHawks’ affiliate, initially reached out to Patrick Ewing for the BayHawks vacancy, but the NBA legend declined the offer. Cross said Allan Houston, the Knicks’ liason for the BayHawks, gave him a call recently asking if he’d be interested in the position.
“I actually had gotten to know Allan Houston over the last year and a half or so ever since the Knicks took over operations for the BayHawks,” Cross said. “We had a good rapport and being around the same age and both being fans of the game, you start to develop a friendship. So he called me up recently and asked if I was interested and of course I was.”
As the Knicks are hungry to build a championship team, they have placed heavy interest in the BayHawks to find solid role players to fill their roster. Easily the most famous example of this was last season when Jeremy Lin exploded on the BayHawks in January when he put up a triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists before the Knicks called him up and opened the door to Linsanity.
Cross said his priority as a coach is to streamline the BayHawks’ relationship with the Knicks.
“We can mirror the culture in New York and make sure we have the same ideals and hold people responsible and accountable,” Cross said. “I want people to understand we’re the same organization - it’s the same culture that is flowing between the Knicks and the BayHawks.”
As the BayHawks build their roster for the season with the upcoming draft, Cross said he’s going to look for players with tough-as-nails work ethic.
“I’m looking for people who are hungry to get into the gym and get better,” he said. “I beat the bushes to find those players, the guys that the Knicks want to keep their eyes on to make sure they grow and learn. I don’t want to just work guys out, I want to get them to understand the nuances of the game like where to make their shots, where to look for reads. I want to make them students of the game.”
Cross said he still considers himself a student of the game too. He credits his grandfather George Cross, a revered high school basketball coach in St. Louis, as a strong influence on his coaching knowledge in addition to playing basketball at the University of Illinois under legendary coach Lou Henson.
"My grandfather was the first person I locked into as a coach because I saw not only the effect he had on people's lives but how he was able to grow as a result of it as well," he said. "And Coach Henson, he was always talking about growing and learning and making sure you improve on what you can be doing."
Cross said he takes the head coaching job in Erie with a strong sense of gratitude. Not only from Iowa Energy head coach Kevin Young whom he described as "tremendous" to work under last season, but to the Knicks and BayHawks for giving him the opportunity to take on his first head coaching job in the NBA D-League.
"What they expect of me is to be the best coach I can be," Cross said. "I want to develop players and make them better. When the Knicks send players down here, I want to make sure that it's a seamless transition. It's about developing the same type of culture here that the Knicks have."