As D-League alumni and other aspiring basketball athletes went about strutting their stuff in Las Vegas during NBA Summer League last week, the objective for many was being seen and getting noticed. Whereas snagging a gig anywhere in The Association would be nice, proving they could acclimate themselves into a respective team's system rather quickly would go a long way towards securing them such a job.
The players may truly be the stars of the show in Sin City, but alas, the summer session provides coaches with valuable opportunities as well. For Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Casey Hill and recently hired Nate Bjorkgren of the Bakersfield Jam (who, coincidentally, together led Santa Cruz to a D-League Finals appearance back in 2013), the chance to join in on the fun was all the important towards setting the foundation towards a promising year this coming fall.
Each coach will be met with an unique opportunity this coming season. The NBA affiliate of Coach Hill's squad (the Golden State Warriors) will employ a new coaching staff, led by first-time head coach and five-time NBA champion Steve Kerr. Coach Bjorkgren's Bakersfield Jam recently entered into an exclusive single-affiliation with the Phoenix Suns for the very first time.
Needless to say, each coach's tenure in Las Vegas presented them with an opportunity to bond with a new coaching staff and build some unity between the respective NBA and D-League affiliates. As such, both Coach Hill and Coach Bjorkgren served as assistant coaches for their NBA affiliates during Summer League.
"To be honest with you, it was a dream come true. I think everyone who thinks about coaching in the D-League with single affiliates thinks about moments like this," Coach Hill told RidiculousUpside.com "You think about how you can learn, as well as how you can help. Coach Kerr was amazing in that sense, because he had me involved in everything from the first step --- ever since we got started. It was wonderful."
Coach Bjorkgren appeared to share and/or reiterate similar sentiments (as it related to his own situation), asserting, "We're going to play the same exact things in Bakersfield that they're doing in Phoenix. The assignments are going to be a seamless transition. It's good to have the D-League guys out in Las Vegas. It's good to see guys that you play against. It's good to coach guys that you've had before. Even as I sat [on the Suns' bench], I was able to tell some of our coaches about the D-League guys. It was nice."
After learning from Coach Bjorkgren as an assistant in Santa Cruz during the 2012-13 season, Coach Hill stepped up to the plate to lead the Warriors to a second consecutive D-League Finals appearance just this past spring. But thus far during the latter's tenure in town, the Warriors have utilized their D-League affiliate with Mark Jackson's respective coaching ideals in mind.
As Coach Kerr begins to lead the way, what changes will be in store for Santa Cruz, if any?
"I think you were able to see what we want to do, simply by judging from Summer League. There needs to be more ball movement. Obviously, it's going to be a completely different system," he said. The coach added, "To be honest with you, that's something I'm very excited about. I get to learn and teach a completely different system, so it'll be a great experience for me to broaden my knowledge of the game. I'm looking forward to it, because any time you challenge yourself, it's a positive thing."
And as the Suns and Jam exclusively join forces this coming season, the opportunity at hand is one where Coach Bjorkgren starts fresh. As a D-League coaching veteran, he'll look to bridge the gap as the two squads look to form a strong bond.
That said, what did he look to take away from his time occupying a seat on the Suns bench in Las Vegas?
"Everything. That's why it was so important for me to be there. The coaches really allowed me to get into the mix," Coach Bjorkgren asserted. "I tried to take bits and pieces of everything, whether that be offensively or defensively. You name it."
It's safe to say that Coach Hill and Coach Bjorkgren each have interesting challenges awaiting them in the season ahead, but the recent time spent with their respective NBA affiliates is sure to make the upcoming transition much easier.