Experience in Denver invaluable as Augmon heads to UNLV
Because of his fierce loyalty, Stacey Augmon recently found himself faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his career.
Should he remain with the Denver Nuggets, who gave him his first coaching opportunity four years ago, or should he join his friend and former college teammate to help restore glory at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas?
“Very hard decision,” Augmon said Thursday as he sat in the Nuggets training room.
In his first extensive comments since accepting an assistant coaching position at his alma mater, Augmon expressed gratitude for the opportunity that Nuggets coach George Karl gave him in 2007 and voiced excitement for the challenge that awaits at UNLV.
“It’s a cool and unique situation,” he said. “I think if any other college would’ve called, it would’ve been ‘No’ right off the bat. I wouldn’t leave Denver for any college other than UNLV – and even that was hard.”
Augmon was one of the most prominent members of the UNLV team that throttled Duke by 30 points in the 1990 NCAA title game. Playing for coach Jerry Tarkanian, he helped the Runnin’ Rebels go undefeated during the 1990-91 regular season and left as the third-leading scorer in school history.
Given his place in UNLV lore and his coaching experience in the NBA, Augmon was a natural choice for Rebels coach Dave Rice as he started building his coaching staff after being hired in April. Rice and Augmon were teammates from 1989-91.
“When I sit back and think about the times I had there and where the program is now, I just want to be a part of trying to get it back to a high level,” Augmon said. “There’s pride. Going back is going to be personal to try to get the program back to where it used to be.”
Augmon was the ninth overall pick of the 1991 NBA draft and played 15 seasons for five teams. He joined the Nuggets as a player development coach one month after being cut by the team during training camp in 2007.
His NBA experience and status as a UNLV legend certainly will help attract recruits eager to rekindle the dominant days under Tarkanian.
“Stacey’s return is great for UNLV,” said Nuggets assistant John Welch, who spent several seasons as a graduate assistant under Tarkanian at UNLV and Fresno State. “He will help bridge the gap between the current Rebels and the past.”
In Denver, Augmon was able to learn the coaching side of the game from his longtime coach and mentor Tim Grgurich. The two first met when Augmon was in high school, and their relationship grew when Grgurich was an assistant at UNLV.
They reunited in Denver, spending three seasons together on Karl’s staff. Though Grgurich was not with the Nuggets in 2010-11, he continued to assist Augmon as he contemplated his next career move.
“There’s been a couple of calls to Grg,” Augmon said. “He stays neutral. He’s going to give you both sides, the positives and negatives, and let you make a decision … There’s numerous things I’ve learned from coach Grg. It’s not just one thing.”
Augmon also took plenty of notes from Karl, one of only seven NBA coaches to win 1,000 career regular-season games. He learned how to take small setbacks in stride and to be patient when things don’t always go your way.
“It was a four-year crash course of being taught the other side of basketball,” Augmon said. “I learned so much. It was a great experience.”
Augmon becomes the latest branch on the George Karl coaching tree that includes NBA head coaches Scott Brooks, Nate McMillan and Vinny Del Negro.
“I was really happy with him this year,” Karl said of Augmon. “He was in a good place, moving in a good direction. You have opportunities and options that you have to make decisions on.”
During his four years in Denver, Augmon made an impact as someone who could relate to players during the grind of an NBA season.
“He has a quiet humility to him that I think players enjoy,” Karl said. “A lot of coaches are more vocal and more physical. Stacey has this quiet demeanor that I think is respected by everybody.”
Though quiet confidence is one of his strengths, Augmon also became more assertive during practices and games this past season.
“I think I came out of my shell a little bit,” he said. “I pick my times. I’m not one to keep harping on anything. But when I did see something this year, I was more vocal with my opinion.”
Augmon is taking his voice to the Las Vegas desert, but he and his family will certainly look back on their Denver days fondly.
“They really love Denver,” he said. “Denver was more than what they expected. Beautiful city, good city for the kids and raising a family.”
And, as it turns, raising a coach.