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Assistant coaches program helps former players become future coaches

The NBA's Assistant Coaches Program has helped more than 200 former players with potential coaching careers since its inception in 1988.

Former NBA standout Mike Bibby is also a product of the league’s Assistant Coaches Program.

In March 2020, Vince Carter took (and made) his last shot as an NBA player, concluding the longest career in league history at a record 22 seasons. The 43-year-old known as “Half Man, Half Amazing” had spent more than half of his life as a professional basketball player.

While Carter was fortunate enough to play for more than two decades, most NBA careers are much shorter, with an average hovering around five-to-seven years, which means more “life after basketball” to prepare for than basketball to be played. For Carter, he took the media route, signing a multi-year contract with ESPN to serve as an NBA and college basketball analyst.

Another path that former players might consider is pursuing coaching opportunities, whether they be at the high school, collegiate or professional level, to share their knowledge of the game with the next generation of players. To assist former players who are looking to transition into the coaching ranks, the NBA launched the Assistant Coaches Program in 1988.

The goal of the program is to develop qualified coaching candidates by providing current and retired NBA, G League and WNBA players with hands-on-coaching experiences, scouting software training, professional development and event-based networking opportunities. Candidates also have the opportunity to receive guidance and learn from program mentor and former NBA head coach Butch Carter, who’s been a part of the program since 2016.

Since its inception, the program has exposed nearly 200 candidates to NBA and G League general managers, coaches and team personnel through on-court experiences. Notable ACP alums include current Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, former G League Coach of the Year (2017) and current Vanderbilt University head coach Jerry Stackhouse and assistant coach for the University of Maine men’s basketball team Edniesha Curry.

Five coaching candidates from the 2019 program alone were members of 2019-20 NBA and G League coaching staffs and this year’s seven-member class is looking to continue that trend, including NBA veterans Mike Bibby and Chris Duhon as well as D-League alum Ronald Allen. All three former players had coaching experience before joining the Assistant Coaches Program in late 2019, but took their knowledge of the craft to new heights thanks to participation in the coaching boot camp.

“I think this is a program that’s very beneficial for former players to really understand what it takes to be a coach and what coaches go through on a night-in, night-out basis,” Duhon said. “The preparation for both practices and games, your responsibilities as an assistant coach, learning different parts of the game that as a player you may not understand as much, and it just gives you an opportunity to be able to do multiple things.

“Usually former players get into coaching, the only thing that they do is player development. We learned how to do that, but we also learned the technology skills of coaching, putting together presentations, being able to speak in front of a group, how to do scouting reports and many more things.”

The Assistant Coaches Program looks to give its candidates all of the tools that will be needed to become a successful coach at the professional level. This includes extensive technical training in scouting and video editing software, analytics and technologies with access to Synergy, Fast Draw, Fast Scout, SportsCode and JustPlay basketball-learning software. Through mentor Butch Carter’s Analytics 4 Coaches program, candidates are able to learn the various software platforms and how to pair their knowledge of the game as players with analytics to improve their overall coaching profile.

NBA players are used to reading scouting reports as they prepare to take on an opponent. However, most do not understand the tools used to develop that report and the amount of time and effort it takes to put it together. The ACP gives its candidates a deep understanding of basketball analytics, player evaluations and the ability to develop detailed scouting reports.

Allen was not only a member of the 2019-20 ACP class, he also participated back in 2014 alongside Stackhouse. Allen would go on to work with young players and helped prepare some future NBA players during their pre-draft workouts. He eventually took an opportunity to become the head coach at Inglewood High School but decided to return to the program to help take the next steps in his career trajectory.

“The second time around, what drove me to the program was I had several interviews to be an assistant coach on multiple G League staffs, and I continued to run into roadblocks, whether it was, I didn’t have enough head coaching experience, I didn’t have enough coaching experience altogether, or I didn’t have the ability to operate and navigate with the software and technology,” Allen said. “That was the last box that I needed to check to become a fully qualified candidate for an assistant coaching position at the G League level.”

When Allen learned that the technological and software skills he was missing were now being offered in the ACP, he asked if he could return to the program to continue his development and was welcomed back.

The technical knowledge was the key focus for Bibby as well, who entered the program as a novice when it came to technology. He went from someone who “couldn’t tell you how to do anything on a computer” to breaking down video, cutting highlights together and developing scouting reports for the players that he trains.

“It helped me out tremendously because back in the day, if you were an NBA player then you had a good chance to be a coach just off of that. But now there are so many things that you need to know, especially when it comes to using computers and that’s what I was missing.”

The 2019-20 program began in December 2019 with the first meeting being at the MGM Resorts NBA G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas. The Showcase is the G League’s annual in-season scouting event, when all the teams in the league travel to one city and play in front of NBA general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA organizations.

The Showcase ended up being the only in-person event of the 2019-20 program as the coronavirus pandemic forced the ACP to transition to a full virtual experience. But for Bibby, that one in-person event in Las Vegas led to a future opportunity and highlighted a key aspect of the program – networking.

Bibby, who spent six-and-a-half seasons of his playing career with the Sacramento Kings, met Ty Ellis, the coach of the Kings’ G League affiliate – the Stockton Kings – while in Las Vegas. After Ellis spoke to the larger group, Bibby asked Ellis if he would mind if Bibby sat in on some of Stockton’s practices, games and meetings. Ellis obliged and Bibby took part in film sessions, workouts and meetings over a four-game span before the G League season was halted due to the pandemic.

Now Ellis and Bibby and working together again to assist the NBA G League Ignite program. The team of top prospects coming out of high school is beginning to scrimmage together and Ellis and Bibby are coaching the free agent team that the Ignite squad is competing against. That initial meeting in Las Vegas launched a relationship that as Bibby puts it “has opened a lot of doors for me already.”

This type of networking and collaboration with current and former NBA and G League coaches is core to the program to help the candidates grow. And while the pandemic halted the in-person interactions, it continued in a virtual setting with two calls per week with the program participants focused on coaching and development; homework assignments; and a guest speaker series of professionals from across the industry focused on professional development opportunities, and mock interviews with current and former professional and collegiate basketball decision-makers.

“With us going virtual, we were able to get more guest speakers, with G League coaches or GMs, which is something that might not have been able to happen if the season was a normal season,” said Duhon. “So for us to be able to pick their brains, network, and to be able to talk with them and them give us advice, I think that was very beneficial as well during this tough time.”

The program ultimately concluded in September with the candidates looking for future opportunities as hiring gets back into full swing.

“The next step, definitely short term, is looking to be an assistant with a G League team,” said Allen. “And long term is working my way up into the next level, through the G League and through the NBA to put myself in a position to one day become a head coach.”

Whichever opportunities come next, all three candidates feel more prepared for them after being part of the 2019-20 ACP class. “I recommend this program to anybody that’s looking to coach, it helped me tremendously,” said Bibby.

“The Assistant Coaches Program is an investment in the potential of our former players. It builds on their invaluable insights and unique experience as pros while teaching them the technical skills demanded in the professional coaching space,” said NBA Player Development Vice President Jamila Wideman. “We are thrilled about the success of this year’s program, which is a true testament to the talent of the candidates and the ability to shift the robust curriculum virtually.”