Opportunity can come from anywhere. Opportunity can come from making an impression in an open gym, or a connection with a new teammate. The NBA G League is the land of opportunity, a chance to grow and show for scouts, coaches and front offices throughout the league. If any of this season’s Long Island Nets players let that concept slip from their minds, they can get a reminder from a coach who has lived it.
As he enters his fourth season as part of the Brooklyn Nets organization, Shaun Fein steps up to a new role as the head coach of the Long Island Nets.
“It excites me that you run your own team,” said Fein. “You’re the one making the decisions all the time. I think as an assistant coach or even a player development coach, you’re watching the games and the head coach is making decisions, and you kind of say, ‘would I have done that, or would I have done something different?’ Now there’s pressure. You can always be the Monday morning quarterback and be like, ‘well, I would have done this.’ But now when the time comes, it’s actually your decision.
“I think it’s going to be a little nerve-wracking that this is going to be the first time you’re doing it, but I think that’s the only way you grow. I think in this organization especially we’re always talking about growing not only players, but coaching staff as well. So this is a tremendous growth opportunity for me.”
Fein came to Brooklyn in 2016 as head coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks staffed up for their first season, but Fein’s relationship with Atkinson went back more than a decade. When Fein was playing his first season of pro ball in France in 2001, his French Pro B League team in Nantes brought in a veteran point guard midway through the year. Atkinson had been bouncing around Europe for nearly a decade at that point, well-versed in the nuances of life abroad for American ballplayers. “He kind of took me under his wing,” said Fein. “He was at the latter stages of his career and I was just beginning mine. I think as a first-year player, as an American, you’re in a foreign country, you don’t really know anything. I didn’t really know the language at all. He had been over there for a while, could speak the language. I was in my apartment playing PlayStation, after practice would just go home. He kind of got me out of my comfort zone; ‘hey, we’re going to go out, we’re going to go have dinner’ and things like that. Kind of showed me how to live life as a basketball player in Europe. I was really appreciative of that.”
Fein went on to play 13 seasons abroad, all in France, over time immersing himself in the culture and learning the language as Atkinson did. He even picked up dual citizenship after a few years, which allowed him to be counted as a European player and not among the limited number of Americans allowed on each team’s roster.
As his career wound down, Fein had his eye on moving into coaching, thinking he was bound for the college game. Instead, he wound up with an offer to join the staff of the Boston Celtics’ G League squad, the Maine Red Claws, a chance for the Massachusetts native to get closer to home after more than a decade working abroad.
Right there, it was a pretty good journey for a player who starved for recruiting attention as a rail-thin high school shooter from Cape Cod and accepted a half-scholarship to Division II Stonehill College. A trip to Atlanta after his freshman year changed Fein’s trajectory. Playing pickup games with his AAU teammate Jon Babul, who was playing for Georgia Tech, Fein stood out and made an impression on some former Tech stars back in town for workouts like Stephon Marbury, Matt Harpring, and Drew Barry. They lobbied coach Bobby Cremins to bring Fein to Tech, and after an All-American season at Stonehill as a sophomore, he was bound for the ACC. After sitting out a transfer season, Fein was a two-year starter for the Yellow Jackets, giving himself a springboard to that pro career.
“It’s kind of an amazing story,” said Fein. “You don’t hear that very often, go from a Division II school to an ACC school. I got a little lucky, but I always tell guys, whenever you’re playing a gym, you have no idea who’s watching you. I used to tell kids that story that were in high school and underrecruited. Maybe you’re just playing pickup with someone and there’s a guy in the gym and he tells his coach. Many things can happen.”
Like that veteran point guard Fein played with his rookie year racing up the NBA coaching ladder a decade later. While he was with Maine, Fein joined Atkinson and current Nets assistant Jordan Ott on the coaching staff of the Dominican Republic’s national team. In 2016, Atkinson took over in Brooklyn and Fein came on board with a job on the video team that helped serve as an NBA crash course.
“It gives you a chance to learn the league, because you’re breaking down so much film, you’re watching so many games,” said Fein. “So you see what all the teams are doing offensively, defensively. I think that it’s an advantage that you spend some time in the video room, because you see things that, if you weren’t in the video room, you didn’t take the time to look at all that stuff. It’s definitely a grind. You put in a lot of hours, but I think it prepares you for that next step.”
Last season, Fein moved into a player development role that helped lead to his new position. Fein moved between Brooklyn and Long Island to manage players splitting time between the NBA and the G League, primarily two-way players Theo Pinson and Alan Williams and rookie Dzanan Musa. He worked with the players on skill development and filled game-night reports to keep the Brooklyn front office and staff up-to-date on the players’ progress.
Communication is key so that players moving back and forth can transition seamlessly between Brooklyn and Long Island. Fein worked closely with Matt Riccardi in that process, who has been elevated from Long Island’s assistant general manager to general manager.
“I’m going to be a first-time head coach, so there’s going to be a lot of challenges for me,” said Fein. “But I’ve played basketball my whole life. I’ve been around this organization for three years now since Kenny came in. I know how he wants things done. I think that’s the biggest thing with the G League team, we’re going to mimic what we do in Brooklyn so we can have that seamless transition when guys are going back and forth so there’s not time that Brooklyn coaches have to teach, ‘hey, this is what we do.’ No, we already know what we’re doing. I think that’s super important.”