Moment of Doubt

5 years into coaching career, Lawrence Frank hit the pause button – briefly

Lawrence Frank
Christian Petersen (NBAE/Getty)
The idea of a career as a basketball coach flowered within Lawrence Frank when he was 13. It wasn’t something he sat on until he left college eight years later, either. Coaching youth teams while still in high school and plotting his course to attend Indiana to learn at Bobby Knight’s knee, then majoring in education so he could teach in high school and coach at that level if the NBA never came calling, it’s always been about basketball coaching for Lawrence Frank.

Well, almost always.

On Knight’s recommendation, Frank landed a job under Kevin O’Neill at Marquette fresh out of Indiana, taking a position as a staff assistant earning $5,000 a year in 1992. He left after two years, following O’Neill to Tennessee, getting promoted to a full-time staffer a year later. Then O’Neill quit over philosophical differences with Tennessee three years into their run in Knoxville.

Frank loved working with O’Neill, who later would join Rick Carlisle as a Pistons assistant before getting his shot as a head coach with Toronto, but he couldn’t bring himself to follow O’Neill to his next coaching stop, Northwestern.

“I had such loyalty to Kevin,” Frank said. “I wouldn’t go to work for anyone else, but I wasn’t going to Northwestern. I just didn’t feel it was the right fit for me.”

And that’s when Frank wondered if there was something else, something other than coaching that could fill him with the same drive and leave him with the same sense of exhilaration – or devastation.

“I said, you know what? For five straight years I’ve been doing 365, 10-hours a day. I want to see how others live. I was going to take a year off and work with my brother who’s in commercial real estate. I was in real estate for around five weeks and it was like going to a sword fight with a spoon. You talk about underqualified.”

That summer, a friend of O’Neill’s whose job called for him to put together foreign playing tours for college basketball teams asked if he could recommend anyone who’d be interested in coaching an Australian minor league team for a few months. Guess who volunteered?

“I spent 2½ months out there in Australia and realized after doing it, I just can’t leave basketball,” Frank said. “I love it too much.”

About that time, somebody mentioned Frank’s name to Brian Hill, a member of John Kuester’s staff the past two seasons who was then head coach of the Vancouver Grizzlies. Hill, like Frank a New Jersey native, was looking for an advance scout.

“The advance scouting position is one of the most difficult positions at this level,” Frank said. “You’re on the road every single day. Your job doesn’t end until around 4 in the morning. You have to turn in that report and, guess what? Your wakeup calls is at 5 because you’ve got to get to the next city. Watch film, prepare. The guys who do the position, it’s an unbelievably demanding job.”

Frank did it for one full season and was midway through his second when Hill pulled him aside, approving of the work he was putting in with the team’s young players when his schedule allowed and deciding he’d be more valuable to the organization in that role.

“When I was doing the (advance scouting) job during the second year, what I said to myself was I loved it, it’s a great opportunity … (but) I want to coach.”

And he’s never looked back.