Quin Snyder: Turning Toros into Spurs


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Quin Snyder works in the long shadows of NBA dreams, a mentor of potential, a molder of skill. He is the evaluator pouring over talent on a bus ride between games, the motivator challenging his players in front of 2,000 fans at the Austin Convention Center.

Far from the bright lights and vast media exposure he once knew at the University of Missouri, Snyder has found a home with the Austin Toros, a team that plays before small crowds and gets meager print coverage. One playoff victory in April elicited six paragraphs in the hometown paper.

There are other reminders this isn’t prime time. Two years ago, while the practice facility was occupied, Snyder had to cut short a team workout at a replacement gym so the homeless could shower in the ba throoms.

In truth, that means little to Snyder. What matters is how he prepares players in the NBA’s Development League, and judging by his record, he’s been a slam dunk of a coach. Snyder is the unseen hand behind the recent call-ups of Curtis Jerrells and Alonzo Gee from t he Toros to the Spurs, the invisible force in the development of Ian Mahinmi and Malik Hairston.

"He’s been terrific," says Spurs general manager R.C. Buford. "Quin has performed incredibly well in that environment."

For those who remember him as the Boy Wonder of coaching, that shouldn’t surprise. Give the guy a whistle, a gym, a few players and look out. Snyder, now 43, wins at every level, and his tenure in the D-League is the latest evidence.

First season, he guides the Toros to the finals and the best record in franchise history. Second, he’s named coach of the year. This season, he takes a team to the semifinals with a starting lineup that a veraged 6-3 1/2 in height.

The D-League is a tough gig. Forget the low visibility and never mind the far-flung destinations from Bismarck, N.D., to Portland, Me. Snyder is supposed to develop NBA talent, lose the cream to the Spurs, win games, put fans in the seats and manage a roster that seems like it can change every couple of days.

"It’s something I really like," Snyder says and he means it. "It’s an opportunity to learn to really focus on basketball itself, the coaching, the teaching. That‘s the part of it that I’ve really, really enjoyed. Certainly there isn’t the level of interest that accompanies being head coach in the Big 12. But for me personally, that isn’t something I have missed."

Snyder brings to the D-League one of the great pedigrees in basketball. He was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. A member of three Final Four teams at Duke. An assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers. Then he got his MBA and a law degree, spent four seasons assisting Mike Krzyzewski at his alma mater and grabbed a head coaching gig at age 32.

It was as if someone shot Snyder out of a cannon. His rise from co- captain at Duke to head coach at Missouri happened – boom! – so fast, it spun heads. The ascent continued with four trips to the NCAA Tournament, including a historic run as the No. 12 seed to the Elite Eight in 2002.

Then, in 2006, Snyder resigned from his position at Missouri and disappeared from the spotlight.

He re-appeared in Austin a year later and thrived. Some writers who tracked him down at various D-League stops reported a rebirth. A happy man. A coach at peace in a cacoon of anonymity. He seems that way today. "It's a different game here," he says. "As a coach you have the opportunity to experiment thanks to the changes that occur on your roster. You want to win every night but there is a great thrill in developing young players and helping them chase their NBA dreams."

A sense of humor comes with the job. So does a dose of humility. Ask about his coach of the year award and he deflects praise, heaps credit on assistants Alex Lloyd and Taylor Jenkins, declares himself fortunate to work in the Spurs organization and grateful to be surrounded by skilled players and strong management.

The question Quin watchers want to know is: What next? More than one NBA executive sees an NBA job in his future.

"I'm not in a position to even have an opinion on that," Snyder says.

Buford has an opinion. Snyder's got unlimited potential.

He loves his role in Austin, learning and teaching at the same time, yet it might not be long before the NBA comes calling. Snyder began his career as an assistant to Larry Brown with the Clippers. Now he's learning under one of Brown's best friends, Gregg Popovich. Brown, Pop, Krzyzewski -- what D-League coach ever had three references like that?

From the lengthening shadows of Austin, a future glows. Quin Snyder can't tell you what's ahead, only that right now, he likes what he sees. Toros growing up to become Spurs.