Over the last half decade of G League ball, there’s only been a handful of clubs whose success have remained relatively consistent. Probably the first team to come mind in mind when it comes to continued prosperity would be the Canton Charge, who have made it to the playoffs in every single season of their existence since the organization began during the 2011-12 campaign. That consistent triumph is incredibly rare due to how much change occurs within each organization on a year-by-year basis.
Aside from the Charge, another great example of a successful organization has been the Santa Cruz Warriors. Since moving to the area from North Dakota in 2012, they’ve made it to the playoffs in four out of the five seasons. While much of success is dedicated to terrific Santa Cruz alums like Seth Curry, Dewayne Dedmon, James Mcadoo, Cameron Jones and Darington Hobson, a lot of credit has to the great coaching of Casey Hill.
After one season as an assistant coach under Nate Bjorkgren, he immediately hit the ground running when he became the head man during the 2013-14 season. Within his first year as head coach, he pushed Santa Cruz to the NBA G League title. While they lost that series to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, it established him as someone to look out for within the G League coaching ranks. That appeal strengthened even further during the following season as he pushed the team back to the G League Finals and ultimately won that rematch against Mad Ants.
While he was never able to recapture that magic, as the team went 19-31 and 31-19 during the subsequent two seasons, Hill maintained his status as one of the top coaches in the league. His elite status made it a bit of a surprise when it was announced in the off-season that he won’t be returning to Santa Cruz for another season on May 10th.
However, Hill’s absence from the G League didn’t last long as he signed onto become the new head coach of the Agua Caliente Clippers in mid-July. As he prepares for his first year with the team, Ridiculous Upside had a chance to interview Casey Hill about why he decided to sign on with the AC Clippers, two-way deals, Doc Rivers and some of the key members of this year’s team.
Ridiculous Upside : After an extremely successful run with Santa Cruz, why did you decide to hop on board to coach an expansion G League squad?
Casey Hill: To be honest, it was a mutual decision between Golden State and myself to move on. I had basically done everything I could there and there was no room for me to make my way onto Steve's staff.
It was funny because when I heard about the Clippers getting a G League team, it was something that kind of intrigued me because I've been involved in an expansion scenario with the Dakota Wizards moving to Santa Cruz in 2012. I was excited by the possibility of being able to tap into that experience that I had with Dakota/Santa Cruz and all the things that we did to get things set up.
I thought I could be valuable to what they were trying to do and I had a great relationship with Dee Brown and I thought it was a really good opportunity. It was a great opportunity for me to continue grow as a coach because you don't often you get to do this this early in your career to be able to take the responsibility of that makes me feel like I'm continuing to grow as a coach which is really beneficial.
RU: What was it about the Clippers organization that made you want to take on this challenge?
CH: I have a lot respect for Doc, he played for my father when my dad was coaching San Antonio so I've known since I was very young. Over the years I've been able to watch and observe him as a coach throughout his career. I've always been a big fan of him with the way that he coaches, and I've stolen a million plays from him over the years (laughter). I thought it would be a really fun experience to work under him and learn from him to watch how he manages his players. Being in LA, you're on one of the biggest stages in sports and to be able to see a personality like him and how he handles the everyday responsibility that a stage like this puts on your shoulders was something that I was interested in.
I have a lot of respect for the Clippers with the things that they're doing especially this year with changing the way that they play and their culture has changed a bit. It's been fun to watch that and also be involved.
RU: What is it like to be able to help create an expansion team with a crew of guys with a plethora of G League experience (Dee Brown, Scott Schroeder).
CH: I met Scott when I was interning with the Dakota Wizards so many years ago when he was living in Bismark and writing for Ridiculous Upside. While we didn't know each other super well as he's gotten into the league and worked with a lot of the same people that I have a lot of respect for. Around two months ago we started working together and as soon as we started working together it felt like we already had a bond.
We immediately started talking about the G League and how to navigate the structure of it and all the different obstacles that it puts in front of you. It was like running into someone and speaking the exact same language. I can you tell you this, Scott and I are going to be close for a long, long time after this experience because we've put in a lot of work and have had a lot fun doing it.
RU: In regards to two-way contracts, how much involvement do you have when it comes to determining which players get signed?
CH: I definitely had a voice in the room. They have a large scouting group here and everyone is given an opportunity to voice their opinion and concerns. Jamil Wilson's deal was all but done before I signed on but there was a lot of dialogue with the second one (CJ Williams) as a lot of different ideas came up. I would say that I have a lot more input than I in terms of players that we're getting. Obviously the two-way deals are new, but it was a good process to get the types of players that we wanted.
Y'know what, It's funny because the guys on two-way contracts that are with you during training camp and practice are looked at in a different lens because of the contract structure. They're not necessarily treated any different because I treat my players all the same but its definitely a focus of mine to make sure that those guys are kept tabs on a little more. That allows me to send thoughts and notes up to LA when they need them.
RU: How important was G League experience when it came to bringing in experienced players like CJ Williams and Jamil Wilson on an expansion squad that hasn't been able to create a culture.
CH: It's really important. When I found out that I was going to have both guys with us it was such a relieving feeling. Because they've been around the league, they've been overseas, so they have a great perspective on what it means to be a professional athlete. Creating a culture is important especially establishing one early on and having those two guys on is wonderful. We have a mutual respect because I coached against them a bunch when CJ was with Texas and LA and Jamil was with Bakersfield and Texas. Those guys have kind of become the leaders of our team and established a culture of basketball IQ, being their for each other and professionalism.
RU: Did that importance of experience remain when you brought on guys JJ O'Brien, Andre Dawkins, LaDontae Henton and Tyrone Wallace to the squad?
CH: Yeah. We got JJ and Andre through the expansion draft which was by design and something that Scott, Dee and I focused on as we prepared for the expansion draft. We honed on a certain number of guys that we knew for sure had a chance to come back and play in this league that can provide us with that foundation. In regards to Ty and LaDontae, those two guys were in camp with us for the LA Clippers. Getting their rights was an important thing but also just having those individuals on our team is something that will be very important. They're obviously widely talented and stand for the values and culture that we want to have.
RU: What was the thought process like with the selection with Tyler Roberson?
CH: We were looking for a big, and Tyler is someone that we spent a lot of time watching film on in our draft preparations. It was really funny because as soon as we started to watch him, we all basically decided that he was our guy. I was able to watch him a bit during the G League Player Invitation in Chicago, which I thought was wonderfully run by the league. It's tough to stand out in those types of situations but he was definitely one of the better players there. To be honest, he's been a bright spot with us in training camp and has a huge bright spot as a player.
RU: How do you think Marshall Plumlee could fit with the team?
CH: Honestly, Marshall is a spectacular human. He's talkative on the court and lets you know where he is. Defensively he's becoming our anchor and he just plays so dang hard all the time. I really do believe that this year with us will be one of his best years of basketball because he's going to get a lot of minutes and will be able to identify his identity as a basketball player. It's probably 75% identified already but there's still a couple of areas in his game that he'll need to sort out. I have no doubt in my mind that he'll be right back in the NBA at some point
RU: In terms of on-court play, what should we expect from this team?
CH: The two things that we're focusing on are being wonderful defensively and shares the basketball. If we accomplish those two things and have it become part of our identity then we'll be in really good shape.