ORLANDO, Florida. – Justin Anderson was about to start his whiteboard presentation in a nearly empty basketball court when John Lucas III interrupted him.
“Can I propose?” said Lucas, who spent his final year as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Will you respect the coach with the hat on backwards?”
“I mean yes. It’s me, right?” Anderson said, eliciting chuckles from eight people gathered on folding chairs. Anderson, in a navy blue baseball cap, said he wasn’t trying to be funny.
“Have you ever seen your coach wear a cap in training?” Lucas said.
“No, you’re right,” said Anderson, 28, a six-year NBA veteran. He took off his hat.
He turned back to the whiteboard and began his presentation: a fake collapse of the Phoenix Suns.
At first he seemed nervous.
“We got Phoenix today, folks,” Anderson began, shuffling his hands, then pointing to a whiteboard that had notes organized into sections like “Keys to Victory.” “We don’t know what the status of Chris Paul is. He left. If he’s not here today, they’ll probably put in Cam Payne. I think he’s averaged 16 over the last five.”
Over the next few hours, Anderson and a group of current and former NBA and WNBA players will coach the nation’s top boys in high school at the NBA Players Union’s annual camp. For decades, this one-week camp has served the dual purpose of highlighting the best prospects for scouting teenagers and providing a training program for players considering coaching as a future career.
Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green, and Jerry Stackhouse, who coach the Vanderbilt University men’s basketball team, attended the camp.
This year, the coaching team included one WNBA player: Marie Ferdinand-Harris, a three-time retired All-Star. NBA players have ranged from those with short careers like Peyton Siwa, who played 24 games for the Orlando Magic in 2013-2014, to more established ones like Rodney Hood, who has been in the NBA since 2014.
“I just know that I can’t play forever. I was seriously injured when I tore my Achilles,” Hood, 29, said, referring to a tendon injury in 2019. “Just realizing this, I thought a lot about what I would do after basketball, and I want to continue participating in the game.”
For 43-year-old Ferdinand-Harris, the camp became a test drive to find out if she enjoys working out.
“Now it’s about more participation of women, and not only in the women’s part of basketball, but also in the men’s,” she said. “They are looking for qualified women to step into roles.”
The camp began the night before Anderson’s whiteboard presentation. Lucas, who has played for six NBA teams, has led the coaching program for the past three years after playing on eight teams as a player. His father, John Lucas Jr., has been an NBA coach since the early 1990s and helps find players for the camp. The younger Lucas, 39, assigned each coaching attendee a team for scouting and discussion. There was also a videoconference with David Fizdale, who has experience as an assistant and head coach in the NBA.
A key tenet of professional coaching, according to Lucas, is to “be be able to deal with the ego. How to deal with a superstar who wants you to challenge. The importance of eye contact when addressing your team. When to use profanity. When you can’t.
“You have to be able to deal with everyone on this team who has been male on their team before – all their lives,” he said. “How can you get these 15 guys to join the system and work as one?”
Anderson took note of the lessons about superstars.
“I’ve been around humble superstars like Dirk Nowitzki,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of guys who are maybe a little more needy. But I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is that once you stop being a player, everything starts all over again. It goes back to level one and you have to almost rebuild your resume.”
The NBA has long been criticized for how few black coaches it has despite having mostly black players. The number fluctuates, but currently 15 out of 30 head coaches are black. most – and Eric Spoelstra from Miami is of Filipino descent. Two years ago, the number of non-white coaches was only seven. Coaching camp can help black players in particular get jobs, but that’s not a guarantee.
Often, former players are hired as player development coaches – if they are hired at all – and fail to make a significant contribution to tactics.
“I started out as a player development coach,” Lucas said. “And they put me in these positions: “Go talk to this person. Go talk to this person. What’s the matter? Why is he behaving like this? Oh, can you still play? Jump on the court. Now we need you five by five. Three by three. Four by four.” So they still see you as a player, but it’s up to you how to get rid of that.”
Lucas spoke to the camp group about a coaching promotion.
“Would you accept a job for $25,000?” Lucas said. “Because that’s what the video guys get.”
“So why do they come to us with this?” said Javad Williams, who played overseas and in 90 NBA games with Cleveland from 2008 to 2011.
“Because that’s their way of saying, ‘Do you really want this?'” Lucas said. “Do you understand what I am saying? Like, you just graduated, probably earning $500,000.”
“I got a lot of calls,” Williams, 39, said. “I do not do this. I Can do this. “
Williams said he was a scout for several NBA teams. “But they still come to you, ‘We have an entry-level video coordinator or an internship,'” he said.
“It’s their way of bullying you,” Lucas said as several players nodded. “You start over.”
Lucas said players need to consider money and team culture when deciding whether to take a job. Then some of the players shared their opinions. Siwa, who played under Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville, said Pitino would be the last coach he calls on.
“I know his system. I can tell anyone who plays for him. I can tell you everything he is going to say,” said Shiva. “But as a culture, I know myself as a person. I wouldn’t handle it now as his employee. I know what time he wants his coaches to work. I know what kind of work he expects.”
Lucas also talked about the importance of being honest with the players. He asked Hood if the point guard he was playing with was selfish. Hood said the guard was a good teammate.
“I know it’s your boy,” Lucas said. “Now you are a coach. I got you. You don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. You are still a player. See how I got you?
Hood admitted that this teammate sometimes did “stupid things” using a word other than “things”.
At the end of the camp, Lucas conducts mock interviews, acting as a head coach, hiring assistants. The transition from player to manager can be tricky in many ways, but Lucas gave some simple advice.
“Just be yourself,” Lucas said. “The worst thing I see in coaches is that they try to imitate someone else.” He added: “Where is your voice?”
Just don’t wear a baseball cap.