Last season, Alex Jensen was selected as the first-ever head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers brand new NBA D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge. In his first year as a head coach in the NBADL, Jensen led the Charge to the semifinals of the D-League playoffs, and assisted in Manny Harris' receiving two seperate Call-Ups. With success following in the head coach's wake once again, it seems like Canton has found the right guy to lead their organization going forward.
Jensen was hired on in Canton after spending four seasons as an assistant coach for his mentor Rick Majerus at Saint Louis. Jensen also brings firsthand playing experience to the sideline, as he enjoyed an excellent career at the University of Utah, and furthered his playing career overseas in Europe and Japan. Perhaps Jensen's varied background has led him to find success at the NBA D-League level, both as an impressive motivator, and promoter of player development.
RidiculousUpside.com caught up with the head coach coming off the practice floor recently, and Jensen spoke confidently about what he sees from his current group of players. "In the NBA D-League things can change so fast, in fact, we just played Maine where they lost a great player in Shelvin Mack to a Call-Up right before our set of games. However, right now I think our current group of guys are capable of making a deep run in the playoffs. From this point on, I think we can have some success in that regard." Jensen said.
Jensen elaborated on the main difference in which he has seen this year as opposed to his first year in the NBA D-League. "The biggest difference between last season and this season was the lockout. The lockout affected our season quite a bit, we experienced a lot more turnover."
Jensen is right, the lockout last season created an unusual amount of traffic in terms of Call-Ups (60, including 43 players) for such a shortened season. But in order to find success in the NBA D-League, a head coach must find a way to balance out the high amount of turnover. In Jensen's case, he has been able to lean on experienced players for leadership with his team in order to stabilize any sort of turnover.
Jensen highlighted the fact that having two returning players has been a huge reason for the team's winning ways this season. "A big part of it is having guys on the team like Kyle Gibson and Antoine Agudio, both are second year guys who started the year with us again, and have been with us up until this point in the season. They are my leaders. (Jorge) Gutierrez has been phenomenal as our point guard in his first season, and Kyle Weaver has been a great addition, but having Gibson and Agudio back on the team has truly been great for us." Jensen added.
Canton is a perfect city for the D-League
There is undoubtedly a certain amount of support that a team and it's head coach can benefit from in having a single affiliate relationship with their NBA affiliate team. In Canton's case, moving closer to the Cleveland Cavaliers has allowed the team from top to bottom, gather valuable experience from being within a short drive of each other's front door steps.
Jensen has been fortunate enough to experience this unique relationship during his time with the Charge thus far, and spoke about the topic.
"I'm sure there is a difference with multiple affiliates and a hybrid, or single affiliate relationship. From the year and half that I have been with the Charge, being only an hour away from the Cavaliers practice facility has been wonderful. Being so close, it helps the players out when they are asked to move from one team to the other. Canton is a perfect city for it. The great thing about it is when we have a day off we can take our guys, and our crew to Cleveland, and always learn something. The Cavaliers organization has treated us like a branch of themselves, and it has been an excellent experience for us." Jensen said.
Before moving to Canton, the franchise held two different homes and names in Alabama (Flight) and in New Mexico (Thunderbirds). The franchise started out in Huntsville, Alabama, and was a founding member of the NBA D-League back in 2001. After the 2005 season, the franchise then relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico where they played their games up until the 2010-2011 season. The team re-branded itself as the New Mexico Thunderbirds and played one season in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
After finally landing in Canton, Ohio, and as the single affiliate for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise looks to be in tremendous shape moving forward. With an immense set of resources so close in proximity, the Charge-Cavaliers relationship is a prime example of the benefits in having a one-to-one affiliate within reasonable travelling distance.
Jensen will lead his team against the league leading Bakersfield Jam tonight in front of their home crowd. The Charge are coming off an impressive sweep on the road against the Maine Red Claws this past weekend, and now engage in their last lengthy set of home games before ending the season playing 6 out of their last 7 games on the road.
Jensen discussed the differences for him between playing at home and away, "It really doesn't change anything, I try and go about the games in the same way, I've got to approach each game the same myself whether it be out on the road or not." The Charge have been largely successful both at home (13-7) and on the road (11-8). But what remains important for the club is to take care of business in front of their home crowd as their next set of opponents include Bakersfield, Erie, and Maine.
At the moment, Canton holds the third overall best record in the D-League, but are separated by very little in terms of the three teams ahead of them in the standings. The Charge can kick start their final month with a huge win tonight, and carry that momentum with them into their final 10 games. Jensen will surely have his team ready to do so.