Jay Triano Brings Experience And Much More To The Trail Blazers Coaching Staff

Casey Holdahl

Beat Writer
Portland Trail Blazers

Casey Holdahl is the beat reporter for Trailblazers.com. A graduate of the University of Oregon's Allen School of Journalism and Communication, Holdahl founded BlazersEdge.com and worked at the Statesman Journal and OregonLive.com before joining the Trail Blazers in 2007.

View more of Casey's Portland Trail Blazers covererage at ForwardCenter.net

Watch Trail Blazers assistant coach Jay Triano on Portland's bench and you might come away with the sense that he's an intense man.

And you'd be right. The 55 year-old basketball lifer, drafted by both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League out of Simon Fraser University, is a fierce competitor who played in two Summer Olympics as a member of the Canadian national team (it would have been three had Canada not boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow). Once his playing career was over, Triano went straight into coaching and learned the charge he got from playing could be recreated from the sidelines.

"I had a chance to go back and be an assistant coach immediately after at Simon Fraser where I had played," said Triano. "The coach there, he told me, 'I'm only going to be here for a year, so if you come back and be an assistant for a year, learn how to do it, then you can get into coaching.' It was just a natural thing. I didn't like not playing because I'm super competitive but coaching, I found out pretty quick, can be just as competitive."

Since taking that assistant job at his alma mater, Triano has gone on to hold various coaching positions, including a stint as assistant with Team USA and as head coach of both the Toronto Raptors and the Canadian National team, a position he holds today. With 20-plus years of coaching experience, Triano serves as a valuable member of Terry Stotts' staff.

"Jay is terrific," said Stotts. "He has a great basketball knowledge. Players and the staff really respect what he brings to the game because he's been around it at different levels. He's been an NBA head coach, assistant coach, international, so he has a great understanding, a great basketball mind."

And while his understanding of the game and experience are the primary reason he was asked to join Stotts' staff prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, Triano's wit, humor and ability to lighten the mood when necessary also serves a helpful skill set for any team, especially one dealing with the pressures of accelerated success.

"He's the same every day, same energy," said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard of Triano. "He keeps everything at ease. When it's an intense practice and I'm on the sideline and I'm kind of pissed off, he'll come by and throw a joke in and push me. He'll be like, 'You gonna be tough today?' and push me. Having someone like that around, it makes it all worth it."

Whether it's his penchant for trick shots -- he has a various gym-specific challenges for practice locations all across the NBA -- or knowing when a well-timed chop-busting can pull a player out of a funk, Triano has a knack for striking the right balance between having a good time and getting down to the serious business of winning games in the NBA.

"This is a game, it's supposed to be fun," said Triano. "At the same time, we're only going to be good and we're only going to get to do it if we're competitive. Let's have fun but let's also be as driven and competitive as we possibly can be, and I think that's what motivates players."

Having a staff who try to break down the barriers in the relationships between players and coaches can also help motivate, as Triano does from time to time by recording his own Four Bar Fridays as a part of Lillard’s weekly Instagram-based rapping competition, The following lines were written and performed by Triano prior to a recent game against the Kings …

Shots fire, shots taken. Too many rim shots other team's makin'
Back on defense, back in transition, here comes Cousins looking for position
Defense, hard work, ain't a lot of fame, those are the things help you win the game
Gonna be a battle, gonna be a war, gotta stop them because we know how to score

Triano shows the videos to players and coaches during team meetings, and while his skills as a lyricist could certainly be called into question, the real value is the willingness to meet the players on their level.

"It lightens the mood and lets the player know we're accessible," said Triano. "I think that's one of the things about our staff is we confer with the players. The players are going to be the ones thrown out there in front of 20,000 people. We talk to them a lot as assistant and Terry does a great job of communicating with the players, what they feel, how they're feeling.

"I think that's one of the reasons we get along so well as staff and players and staff in general and players in general. There's a real like of open communication and it's fun. They look at me and ask 'What do you got today?' Every time we go into a different gym it's like 'What do you got, coach? There's got to be a trick shot in here somewhere, something we can try to do.' It kind of makes it fun and light and let's them see me as a person. And then when I'm going to get mad in a video session for something that maybe we're not doing right, they're going to listen to that as well."

And when he’s not coming up with rhymes for basketball phrases like “pick and roll,” “dribble handoff” and “verticality” into his raps, he’s acting as a sounding board for Stotts.

“He keeps things light, at times, but he also is very competitive,” said Stotts. “I think it's a good blend. And having been a head coach before, he understands the rigors, from my viewpoint, and also what the team needs from an assistant.”

“I take being prepared and I take doing our board in the locker room and being around for Terry -- I very seldom leave this building until Terry is gone – very seriously,” said Triano. “I very seldom leave the arena until Terry is gone, because I was a head coach and I know that you need that person to bounce ideas off of or vent to or share with at times. I think my having been a head coach and knowing what it's like to be in that seat is a value that I bring.”

Despite having experience as a head coach, Triano says he’s not looking to get back into the big chair, at least not for the time being.

“Right now I am at one of the happiest moments in my life,” said Triano. “I love Portland, I love my role here, I love this team, I love the people I work with. And when I look back to being a head coach, I didn't feel like this. I love coming in here every single day. I know in Toronto it was a little bit of a different situation and I had been there for 10 years in different capacities. I look back and I was miserable as a head coach. A lot of it has to do with the pressure but a lot of it has to do with the fact that, when you're a head coach, there's a lot less basketball. That was the biggest difference. I did less basketball as a head coach than I do as an assistant.”

He probably does more rapping as an assistant, as well.

It can be easy to develop tunnel vision during the highs and lows of an 82-game season, but having someone like Triano on staff, someone able to indulge his fiercely competitiveness side while also having enough perspective to enjoy the game for what it is, makes the rigors of the NBA easier to endure.

“I'm going to have fun and we have fun in the locker room and we have fun as assistant coaches,” said Triano. “We laugh as much as we curse. I think that's the balance. You have to have a great balance. Trick shots, having fun, practical jokes, that's all part of it and that's all part of being a team and having a team come together.”