Over the last few NBA seasons, one of the teams that have really made the biggest leap has been the Utah Jazz. At this time three years ago, the Jazz stood as one of the worst teams in the NBA. Although they featured a solid young core that was led by Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, they weren’t able to have on-court success as they finished 25-57 during the 2013-14 season.
That horrendous season pushed the Jazz to reinvigorate their organization as they fired head coach Tyrone Corbin and ended up bringing in Quin Snyder, who had previously been a head coach for the Missouri Tigers and Austin Toros.
Over the course of his three seasons as Jazz head coach, Snyder has been able to push the team away from the duldroms of the NBA to maintaining a 51-31 record during the 2016-17 season. That progression was due to Snyder pushing the Jazz to be a defensive-oriented squad. Although that change seemed obvious due to the team having an elite defensive big in Rudy Gobert, it was still a process that took three years to complete. But once that process concluded, the Jazz stood as the 3rd best defensive squad in the NBA as they maintained a 105.3 Defensive Rating.
Snyder’s ability to push a young Jazz team to the top of the Western Conference was crafted through decades of coaching basketball in a multitude of different leagues and countries. Over the course of 20+ years of coaching, Snyder has had the opportunity to learn under terrific basketball minds like Ettore Messina, Doug Collins and even Coach K. In the midst of that time, Snyder also pushed the University of Missouri to an appearance in the Elite Eight during the 2002 NCAA Tournament. However, it was actually Snyder’s time in the NBA D-League that changed his perspective on coaching.
That unique statement came from his recent appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s Vertical podcast. Although they talked a variety of different topics from the Jazz’s steady progress, his success at Missouri and coaching in Russia with Ettore Messina, the interview really picked up when Snyder talked about his experience as head coach of the then-Austin Toros.
The beginning of that D-League discussion began with Snyder talking about how he took that job with the Toros because of his long-lasting relationship with San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford. Snyder’s relationship with Buford and the steadiness of the Spurs franchise allowed the coach to have a safe transition back into coaching after taking a year off following his removal from the University of Missouri.
Alongside that, time in the D-League allowed Snyder to work in a venue where he wouldn’t get a lot of attention. “I was in a position with the D-League and specifically in a place like Austin where we weren’t Texas football so there wasn’t anybody at a game,’ Snyder told Woj. ““If you interpret the D-League in one way, you’d say “boy what’s going on here”. But the way I looked at it, the air was out of the balloon and it was an opportunity for me to really get down to the nuts and bolts to find out if this is what you like doing.”
“What I began to find out is that this is that I was really lucky. I loved the teaching part of it, I liked the competition. The long bus rides, early flights, hundreds of people in the stands didn’t have an impact on me whatsoever because I discovered that this is something that I really like to do. You really lose sight of that. In college there are so many things that you have to be accountable but it was very different in the D-League. In this case it was just coaching.”
Following that quote, Snyder talked about how the Toros had to practice a local rec center in Austin and the need to ship a spare basket from the Spurs facility in a flat bed truck to their facility. Alongside that, Snyder and company had to paint the walls silver and black to match the Spurs team colors. . While he wasn’t ready to compare that situation to the “Bad News Bears”, Snyder mentioned the pride and opportunity that came from being a head coach of a young D-League team.
That pride was also evident from an on-court perspective as he used the D-League to just learn more about coaching. “I got to be a head coach and just screw up in timeout situations and be hard on myself. I was also able to fail and learn from those experiences and still have the support of a team that I still have relationships with to this day,” Snyder mentioned about his work as the Toros head coach.
Snyder’s learning experience in Austin allowed him to realize that being a head coach was his aspiration in life. Despite the long bus trips and low attendance that comes with most D-League teams, Snyder stayed focused on being the team’s head coach because that’s just what he loved to do. That love for coaching allowed Snyder to be a pretty successful head coach during his time with the Toros as he repeatedly pushed the team to the D-League playoffs during each of those three seasons.
Those playoff appearances included a run to the D-League Finals in 2007-08 and back-to-back runs to the NBADL Semi-Finals in 08-09 and 09-10. That continued success pushed Snyder to compile more wins and guide more players to the NBA than any D-League coach was able to do during that period of time.
Snyder’s rise from stumbling onto a stint with Austin to being one of the best coaches in the NBA is an example that the D-League can be a great stepping stone for anybody with aspirations to make it to the Association. While D-League players get the majority of the attention, a multitude of different executives and coaches have utilized the NBADL as a way to gain the experience needed to reach the NBA.
Despite some of the hardships that most D-League players or coaches face, there’s an understanding that you’re just one step from the NBA. Although there may be some struggles in your present, the future of playing or coaching in the NBA is something that everybody should fight for until they receive that call-up.