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Former NBA D-League Coach Eric Musselman Stresses the Importance of Player Development

From the likes of Jeremy Lin, to Danny Green and Gerald Green, former NBA coach Eric Musselman also guided a bevy of today's up and comers in the D-League as well. He spoke to and reflected upon what went into ensuring such players made it to the next level.

On Friday, unrelieved its NBA D-League themed Mount Rushmore. While also featuring players with storied minor league careers, the piece also recognized Jeremy Lin as one of the more notable and successful players to come out of the NBADL.

"Lin was unbelievable to coach. He just came in with an unbelievable attitude," Eric Musselman (Jeremy's coach with the Reno Bighorns) recently told "Lin wanted to get better. The guy was still trying to figure out the pick and roll, and didn't really know how to come off with his left hand. It's so neat to see his success."

Of course, the transition from minor league athlete to household NBA name is not one that many prospects are able to make as seamlessly as Lin did. Still, with the help of Coach Musselman, many well known young guns have indeed gone on to make such progression in recent years.

"I think about guys like Danny Green, Steve Novak, Ish Smith, and Gerald Green--those four, over a two year period, have had great success," said Coach Musselman. He added, "Courtney Fortson is an NBA player. I feel like as a coaching staff, we failed Courtney. He should not only be a guy simply in the NBA, but someone who should stick."

Highlighting the success of [Gerald] Green, the coach asserted, "For the players, it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. It's the same thing with coaches. A lot of times, coaches will have great players, and things work out well. It's the same thing with the players. You can look at a guy like Gerald [Green] over the last three years. First, he goes to Lakers' camp. He doesn't play, gets cut, and then he heads to the D-League."

Coach Musselman continued, "After playing in a handful of [D-League] games, Gerald goes to the Nets and gets a chance because Avery Johnson believed in him. Then when he goes to Indiana, he gets zero opportunity because they already have guys like Danny Granger and Paul George. Now he's in Phoenix, and he's gotten an opportunity because of how their roster is. The key is staying ready physically and mentally when that chance comes. I have great admiration for Gerald, because he does a great job handling whatever is thrown at him. He's been able to stay ready."

After going up and down through the ranks and struggling to stick in the NBA, Green has finally found a place with the Suns. He's averaging 14.2 points on 44% from the field and 38% from deep through 51 contests. Such progression undoubtedly represents player development at its finest.

As a D-League coach with the Reno Bighorns and Los Angeles D-Fenders (respectively in 2010-11 and 2011-12), seeing his players flourish into successful professionals is something Coach Musselman especially prided himself on.

"There has to be trust between a coach and player. That trust isn't something that's given. You have to earn it. The players have to believe that you have their best interests at heart," he said. "All players in the D-League believe that their coaches only care about winning. I'll be the first to admit that winning was our staff's ultimate goal as well. But you also have an obligation as a D-League coach to get your guys better because they're sacrificing to play in the league."

The coach continued, "If you lose sight of the fact that these guys are sacrificing, then you need to not be a D-League coach. Because they are sacrificing a lot to play in the minor league. That's why my staff felt it was important to have a better player development staff than most NBA teams. There's no doubt that the Bighorns' and D-Fenders' staffs were better than most NBA player development staffs."

The key to putting together such a staff is simple, says Coach Musselman. He asserted, "I think the biggest thing in the D-League from an organizational standpoint is that you have to have great coaches and teachers that connect with players."

Recognizing the quality staffs he put together in both Reno and Los Angeles, Coach Musselman highlighted each of his past coaches' success and dedication, alluding to the fact that they have all since progressed to bigger and better things.

He said, "I look back at Reno, and Phil Handy was a volunteer coach traveling back and forth between Reno and Oakland. He was making no money, but then got called up to the Lakers, and now he has a really good job in Cleveland. He made a sacrifice. Aubrey McCreary, one of the greatest workout guys I've ever been around, was working for free. And then after he left Reno, Aubrey was with Cleveland as a Player Development Coach last year."

Coach Musselman also praised Tom Bialaszewski, a member of his Bighorns staff who is now a video coordinator for the Lakers. What's more, the former NBADL coach called D-Fenders' turned Lakers advanced scout Clay Moser "one of best basketball minds I have ever been around."

He continued, adding, "Larry Lewis did an unbelievable job, and now he's with the Lakers as their co-player development coach. Connor Henry was an assistant, and now he's obviously the head coach in Fort Wayne."

As a result of being guided by such well put together staffs, many of Coach Musselman's past players have gone on to achieve success in The Association. What's more, however, is the fact that his teams played together, and did quite well, in the NBADL. The D-Fenders were even recognized as the 2011-12 NBA D-League Development Champion, which highlights "the team that best embodies the NBA D-League's goals of developing NBA basketball talent via call-ups and assignments," following a trip to the NBADL Finals that year. Musselman was named the D-League's Coach of the Year.

Following such an achievement, the son of coaching legend Bill Musselman has since moved into a role as Associate Head Coach at Arizona State University. The opportunity to continue working with the players of tomorrow is obviously still one that the coach enjoys. He said, "There are a lot of similarities as far as working with players who are trying to improve their skills. As far as on the floor, there are similarities. In the D-League, you get a lot of players who are trying to learn terminology and offensive executions and rotations. Those are the same. At the end of the day, the number one thing is that you're here to serve the players."

"You have different responsibilities from when you're an assistant coach to a head coach. The neat thing about being an assistant is that you can be a sounding board for the players. Players go to the assistants and confide in them. The neatest thing about college is you have an impact on people's lives."

Still, Coach Musselman continues to reflect upon his time in the D-League fondly. He conveyed, "The best part of coaching in the D-League is seeing success stories and seeing guys called up. It's not only about watching them get called up, but seeing them stick around in the NBA. That's the ultimate goal for anybody. We talked daily to those guys about how to get into the NBA, not just a 10-day contract. There's a big difference."