Last season, the Austin Toros topped Los Angeles (2-1) in the NBA D-League finals, and won their first ever NBADL championship. Current Toros head coach Taylor Jenkins, was an assistant coach when Austin rallied back after dropping their first game in the 3-game set against the D-Fenders. Now, Jenkins will lead his Toros against the Bakersfield Jam, in what will likely be a first round battle for the ages as he hopes to lead Austin to back-to-back titles.
Jenkins is in his fifth year with the Toros organization, but it is his first season as head coach. He spoke with RidiculousUpside.com about utilizing his experience as apart of his preparation for their upcoming playoff run. "Obviously experience goes a long way, but I don't necessarily want to place the attention on me. It's been our team goal, and the players have taken it upon themselves to have the playoffs in mind from the get go. They're the ones who will go out there and play, so I try to center the team around them and not so much about me, and my experience. I feel like now is not the time to get off center, or off track of what we've been doing all season long now that the playoffs are beginning," Jenkins said.
The Toros finished the season with a 27-23 record, and wrapped up the sixth seed heading into this postseason. The D-League playoffs are a familiar setting for Jenkins, but in this particular season, preparing for an assignment player during the playoffs is something Jenkins will need to be thinking about. For example, the New Zealand born big man Aron Baynes, could assist in the playoff run for the Toros, but the head coach feels like his team is prepared either way.
"It really goes hand in hand, sometimes we find out about assignment players last minute, and sometimes there's a heads up. Our guys are well aware of it, and have responded incredibly well to the addition of assignment players over the season. If we were to receive an assignment player, it wouldn't take away from our current group of guys because we have developed a strategy on how to deal with them regarding our team's overall play. Every instance where we have had an assignment player, the team has reacted in a positive and productive manner. It would be no different in the playoffs," the coach explained.
Normally, a team relies heavily on a specific leader entering a postseason stretch. But in terms of the D-League, finding a leader is a bit more difficult given the extreme amount of turnover a roster can experience. Jenkins discussed how he's dealt with the issue of leadership in the D-League, "I let it happen organically, I've never appointed a guy throughout the season, but I have highlighted and joked around that Jamarr Sanders has been the official player spokesperson for our team given his experience. Regarding leadership though, I've encouraged all of our guys on the team, that any given person can be a leader." Jenkins said.
Jenkins and the Toros will face a tough challenge right out of the gate, as they were chosen in the unique NBA D-League playoff format, by the top-seeded Bakersfield Jam for their first round series. Jenkins discussed the unfamiliar scenario in which his team enters this year's postseason. "In years' past, we've been able to chose our opponent, much like Bakersfield chose us. The Jam will be a tough challenge as their coach is a favorite to win Coach of the Year honors, but it should be a fun and exciting series. We are ready for it, and I have our guys preparing in a manner where every game will be played like it's our last."
The Austin Toros have been one of the most successful franchises in the NBADL over the past five seasons, and with a championship already in the books, Jenkins and the Toros are looking to go back-to-back.