Getting to Know... Assistant Coach Nick Van Exel
What is your relationship with Coach Fizdale like, and are you excited to be coaching alongside him and J.B. Bickerstaff?
NVE: “With Fizz, he coached me at Golden State. We had a pretty good relationship there. We’ve always kept in touch. Any time I would be in Atlanta, as a player, we spoke. Even as a coach, we spoke. Even when he went to Miami, we kept in contact and went out to eat a few times here and there. One thing I know about Coach Fizz is, he’s a winner. He’s been with Miami for a while, but he has a passion and a drive. I think he has a vision – a clear vision on what he wants to get done with these guys here. I like his vision.”
“J.B. [Bickerstaff], it’s my first time meeting him, but I literally talked to four coaches congratulating me, and they were like, ‘You couldn’t be with a group of two better guys,’ talking about Fizz and J.B. I’m really excited. J.B.’s been around the block a long time. His dad is a great figure in the NBA. So I’m just going to soak up all the knowledge I can.”
Nick Van Exel Q&A with Pete Pranica
How did your playing career help you prepare for your coaching career and specifically this position?
NVE: “Playing the point guard position, I had to know everybody’s positon. I had to know the two position, three, four and five – offensively and defensively. So I’m just a reflection of the coach out on the court. I was a big talker, a big communicator, so it kind of rolled right into coaching. Around 2003 is when I first really thought about coaching. When the Mavericks traded me to Golden State is when I started thinking about it, because our Golden State team had so many young players. It seemed like I was always just talking, trying to get these guys to understand how to play the game the right way.”
How does the competitive spirit you showed in your playing days drive you as a coach?
NVE: “Well, I’m a lot different as a coach. Like I tell people all the time, my basketball side is so much different than my off-the-court side. It’s not even close. I’m a lot more quiet and laid back as a coach, but I think the respect that the players give me because I played the game, it makes it easier for me to be more relaxed and be more calm. So I’m just a total opposite. The drive and the competiveness is, when you’re teaching a player something and they go out there and do what you were working on, that’s the gratification for me. That’s my thrill right now. When you’re sitting there busting a player in practice or in the summer time and you see them improving and getting better, that’s kind of my drive. That’s what gets me pumped up.”
Who has mentored you along the way?
NVE: “There are quite a few guys. I keep in contact with a lot of guys. Lester Conner has been big for me. He was an assistant for like, 17-19 years in the league. Of course, Coach Larry Drew first hired me in Atlanta. Tim Grgurich, I’ve always looked up to him and his work effort. Ironically, Del Harris – Del Harris has been great for me in my second career as far as coaching is concerned. I saw him the other day. He’s been very helpful and gives me a lot of pointers and things like that.”
What did you pick up from coaching two seasons in the D-League as an assistant and a head coach?
NVE: “It’s humbling, but I’m a humble person so it didn’t bother me much. It’s just going back to like, when I used to be in junior college, taking the busses, waking up at three in the morning and catching a 4:30 a.m. flight and things like that. As far as coaching is concerned, it’s just being able to relate to the players. Being able to communicate. Getting their respect from them. I wasn’t a big yeller, so for me it was, ‘Can I get my point across, and can these guys go out and execute what I’m trying to get done?’ That was good for me. I thought I had a good group of guys. They listened. I still keep in contact with a lot of them. It was a challenge as far as the revolving door. The challenge for me last year was so many new players coming in. You’d get a core and then they may go overseas. We literally had to have a training camp in the middle of the season because we had so many new guys. That was a challenge for me as far as coaching is concerned. I doubt that it’ll ever happen again unless I’m in that situation. But to see new guys come, it could happen for trades in this league, it prepared me for a situation like that.”
Do you have any barbecue places you are going to check out?
NVE:“Man, listen to me, I’m going to try every barbecue spot I see, like literally, because I want to taste it all. Every place I go to, I’m going to get some rib tips. I’m a fried chicken man, so I’m going to try all the good foods.”
The Grizzlies are known for their special bond with this community and their volunteer work. How do you see yourself fitting into that mindset?
NVE: “I’m anxious, because I have a few friends, a few business friends, who are here locally. You know, we’ve already been talking about some things – some things they do as far as the community is concerned. Just look out and see which ones l like the most. For me personally, I was big into single mothers and helping them out, because my mom was a single mom. I was big into Parks and Recreation systems and things like that. If anything, it’s got something to do with kids and single parents and things like that. I’ll see where I can fit in there.”
What are some of the things you like to do in your free time?
NVE: “Can you believe I’m 44 years old and I’m still a video game junkie? I still play video games. I love Madden and this game called The Division right now on the PS4 – and golf. If I can get out and play some golf, come home and play with my 3-year-old and then she lets me play my PS4, I’m good. Very simple. I’m just Madden and The Division, those two. I just started playing The Division about a month ago. But if it’s not Madden, I’m not playing.”
Are you looking forward to playing in the St. Jude Pro AM this week?
NVE: “I’m nervous as hell, I’m not even going to lie to you. I was hitting my driver pretty good, and like the last two weeks, I actually lost my driver and don’t know what happened to it. I’m just hitting the ball all over the place. I’m thinking about teeing off with a 4-iron all day tomorrow (laughs). So yeah, I’m a little bit nervous. But it will be a fun event.”