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Kenny Atkinson a Model for Memphis Coach to Follow

First-year Grizzlies coach Jenkins worked with Nets coach for three years in Atlanta

Since he graduated to an NBA head coaching job in 2016 after nine years as an assistant, Kenny Atkinson has often referred to the influences of other coaches he’s worked with and for, such as his boss in Atlanta, current Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer, and the lessons he’s absorbed.

At the beginning of his fourth season, having guided the Nets on a steady upward trajectory through his first three seasons and into last spring’s playoffs, the focus is now reflected back at Atkinson at times, as a coach other coaches look to emulate.

One of those connections was on the opposite bench Sunday evening as the Nets took on the Memphis Grizzlies and their 35-year-old, first-year head coach Taylor Jenkins.

“First and foremost, he’s just a great friend,” said Jenkins. “Aside from basketball, he’s always been a mentor of mine and supporter of mine, especially as an assistant coach helping me learn my first year in Atlanta and then year after year, showing me his passion for player development, learning tricks from him and what it means to build relationships with players.

“I think you see that in Brooklyn with what he’s done over the last couple of years. He’s just got great energy. He always uses the word spirit. Always make sure the spirit of the team and the spirit of the individual is positive and on the upward trend. That’s something I’ve carried with me year after year. I credit a lot to him. His wife and my wife are super close. Our kids know each other. When you have those friendships across the league and you get to talk a little basketball on the side, it helps me grow both on and off floor.”

Jenkins came to Atlanta as part of Budenholzer’s first Hawks staff in 2013-14, his first NBA position after five seasons with San Antonio’s G League squad. Atkinson was retained from Larry Drew’s staff and was in his seventh season on an NBA staff. They worked together for three years before Atkinson took the Nets job in 2016. Jenkins stayed with Budenholzer through the move to Milwaukee before taking the Memphis job.

“We used to race each other into the office; it was one of those deals,” said Atkinson. “He’s a very competitive dude. Yeah, we just collaborated really, it’s more of a collaboration. Because I’m older they always say mentorship. But we worked closely together. And like I said I have tremendous respect for him, we come from similar backgrounds with Bud. So again I expect them to be really good in a short period here.”

In Memphis, Jenkins is leading a team in rebuilding mode after the departure of franchise cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. In Atkinson’s Brooklyn experience, the development of young players, the consistent effort and the year-over-year improvement, he sees a course worth following.

“Even when I was in Atlanta and Milwaukee the last couple of years just seeing what he was doing, the competitive teams that were rolling out there every single night for Brooklyn,” said Jenkins. “You saw the steady growth one season after another. Brooklyn was one of my scouts, so I got to study their players a whole lot and how they were progressing and growing. It’s something I’ve definitely been mindful of, it’s something that I want to take pieces. I’ve learned from all the places I’ve been, but looking outside of where I have been, Brooklyn is definitely a team I want to keep my eye on and take from them.”

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