As player and coach, Corey Gaines knows that special obligation, that added incentive, that comes with performing on the game’s greatest stage.
“I’m going to sum it up in a quick quote, and I’ve heard it many times,” he says with his trademark enthusiasm. “Pressure is a privilege. It’s a privilege to have pressure on you. I think it means that if you have that privilege to have that pressure on you, and you’re in a good spot, then you do the best you can with it. Some people never get that pressure. You think of The Garden, and New York, and the fact that we haven’t won in a while, and the way the city wants us to win...that’s why I say that pressure is a privilege.”
In the latest chapter in a basketball life that has literally taken him around the world and back, Corey is in his second season as a Knicks assistant coach, his eighth year overall as an NBA coach.
Gaines rejoined the Knickerbockers as an assistant coach on Aug. 1, 2016. He arrived in the Big Apple following six years on the staff of the Phoenix Suns. After five years (2010-11 through 2014-15) as the Suns’ player development coach, he was promoted to assistant coach in 2015-16. Gaines worked alongside Knicks mentor Jeff Hornacek in his last three seasons with the Suns.
“Corey’s a relentless worker,” says Hornacek. “He loves to be out there with the guys, taking them through drills. I think the thing with Corey that he can relate to our guys is that he played with multiple teams in different roles. Not everyone can be a starter, not everybody can be the guy who shoots the ball all the time. You need guys who can play their role, whether that’s coming in for five minutes here or there to bring energy, or cheer from the bench. Corey’s been through all that. So when he talks to guys about, ‘Hey, we need this or that...’; they’re not going, `Yeah, what do you know?’ He’s lived it, he’s been through it, he understands it. So that’s a great thing, and another dynamic that we can mix into our coaching staff.”
“As a coach, you should always bring enthusiasm and energy, regardless,” adds Gaines, 52. “Now, maybe there’s a little more teaching both on and off the court to get the culture the way that you want it to be. To where you see that, when anybody writes about the team, you’ll hear the same thing each time. You’ll hear that they’re playing hard, that the energy level is high. We have to make sure that’s something that comes across automatically, that it’s a given. From there, you just keep on building.”
Gaines served eight seasons (2006 through 2013) with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and helped lead the team to two WNBA Championships. After two years (2006 and 2007) as an assistant coach under Paul Westhead (for whom he had played in college and the NBA), Corey compiled a 90-101 (.471) mark as Mercury head coach from 2008 through 2013. An assistant coach on the 2007 WNBA Championship team, he piloted the Mercury to the 2009 League title with a 23-11 mark keyed by a regular season and Finals MVP performance by Diana Taurasi. The winningest head coach in Mercury franchise history (90), Gaines served in the dual role of Mercury head coach/general manager for two seasons (2012-13). Corey’s coaching career began in 2003 with the Long Beach Jam of the minor league ABA, as both a player-coach and assistant coach under Westhead
“One thing I have learned in basketball, which I learned at an early time because of Paul Westhead and Mike D’Antoni, is that basketball is always evolving,” says Gaines. “You have to evolve with it. I’m not saying you should lose what you did in the past, but you just add to it, and it evolves. Like everything else evolves in life.”
Drafted by Seattle in the third round (65th overall) of the 1988 NBA Draft, Gaines played five NBA seasons with four teams, posting 3.1 points over 80 career games. His professional playing career spanned from 1988 through 2004, and included stops with the CBA and ABA along with overseas stints in Italy, Israel and Japan. In addition to Westhead, he also numbered the likes of Pat Riley and Willis Reed among his head coaches.
Corey was a member of the Knicks’ fabled 1994 Eastern Conference Championship team, signing as a free agent on Dec. 19, 1993, in the wake of Doc Rivers’ season-ending knee injury. In his lone Knicks season, he averaged 1.8 points over 4.3 minutes in 18 games off the bench, then appeared in four post-season games (his only career NBA Playoff action) during the team’s unforgettable Playoff run that fell one game short of the ultimate goal.
Gaines averaged 3.9 points in a four-year college career at UCLA (three years) and Loyola Marymount (one year). He scored a career-high 8.7 points in 1987-88 as a senior at Loyola Marymount, playing in Westhead’s famed up-tempo offense alongside the late Hank Gathers and future Knick Bo Kimble.
Born on Jun. 1, 1965 in Los Angeles, Corey is one of a handful of NBA players of Japanese descent (on his mother’s side). In addition to his Knicks duties, he serves as a consultant to the Japanese Women’s National Team, which won the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in August. Corey became a grandfather on Jul. 5, 2016 when his daughter Megan gave birth to his grandson Kenzo.