Players like Andrew Wiggins make being a coach worth it.
The NBA’s 2022 All-Star Weekend is in my hometown of Cleveland
and even though I won’t be there in person, I’ll be paying close
attention to the All-Star Game. I can’t wait to see Wiggins take
Being a coach can be a thankless job — long days, short nights
and countless hours. Most of the time, coaches spend more time with
their teams than they do with their families, and when things don’t
work out, we’re usually the first to get blamed — whether fair or
not. That’s part of what makes it tough.
What also makes it tough is when you have players who don’t want
to be held to standards or don’t want to work.
A good coach is supposed to push you and challenge you. A good
coach is supposed to hold you accountable. And truth is, some
players just aren’t receptive to that…
But others? They’re like Wiggins.
I got to know him pretty well during our brief time together
during the NBA Summer League in 2014, and I became a believer in
him almost immediately.
Eight years later, I’m going to be so proud to see him take the
court as not only an All-Star from the Western Conference, but as a
I first heard about Andrew when he was at Kansas, and I never
imagined I’d be one of his first NBA coaches — but that’s how
things worked out for us.
I was just coming off of my first season as an assistant with
the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate. In May of
that year, Cleveland won the draft lottery for the second year in a
row (and third time in four years).
They had Kyrie Irving, who they picked first in 2011, and
Anthony Bennett (selected first in 2012). Now, they had won the
draft lottery again and were expected to select Wiggins first
Me? I was fortunate to get the call to be an assistant coach for
the Cavs in the Summer League. I was looking forward to it,
especially to have the opportunity to help develop that young
talent. I was still getting my feet wet as a coach, and when they
did ended up picking Wiggins with the first pick, we were
Andrew, believe it or not, made it easy for us.
With the hype surrounding him, it would have been easy for him
to have an attitude or to have a big head or to not be receptive to
being coached and pushed, but he was the total opposite. He was
kind, patient and absorbed everything like a sponge. It was
Even though I was an assistant coach, I worked with him a lot. I
was constantly in his ear.
What I respected most about Andrew, and I’m not sure I ever told
him directly, was how he handled himself after LeBron announced
that he was coming back to Cleveland. We had conversations about
it, and I advised him — but he just handled himself like such an
The main thing I tried to get him to understand was that there
was going to be an adjustment period for him going from college to
the pros and to not put too much pressure on himself. Focus on
having fun and take your craft seriously. He did just that.
He was a rare combination of someone who was talented, gifted
and confident — yet also calm, quiet and focused. That’s not always
the case with young players with promise.
Especially for those who have accolades and notoriety, those
players can give off an impression that makes you wonder if they
feel like playing in summer leagues or pickup games is almost
beneath them. They don’t give it 100% and don’t seem like they’re
taking the lower levels of play seriously.
That wasn’t Andrew.
As a coach, you want the best for all your players, but there
are some who you actually root for — whether it be
because of their work ethic, their character or your personal
relationship. And yeah, Andrew immediately became one of those
players I rooted for.
In Vegas, after LeBron announced he was going back to Cleveland,
Andrew immediately became the topic of discussion and rumors
because everyone assumed that he would be traded for someone who
could help LeBron win immediately.
During Summer League, he couldn’t go anywhere without people
asking him about the rumors, asking him if he was actually going to
play for the Cavs and stuff like that — despite it all, he was so
positive and upbeat. He remained focused on our common goal.
We had a few conversations about the situation and about his
future in the NBA. I’ll never forget Andrew’s perspective. He
considered himself blessed to be fulfilling his dream, and his sole
focus was to become the best player he could be. He was looking
forward to being LeBron’s understudy and learning from him, but
knew that it was possible that he wouldn’t get that
And if he got traded? He simply knew he was going to give it his
all to become the best player he could be for that team that did
Either way, he always wanted to be with his coaches in the gym.
And he wanted us to push him. No wasted days.
I knew, even back then, that he was going to make
Attitude and humility — knowing that you’ve got a lot to learn
and taking what your coaches have to say seriously — that’s a big
factor when it comes to young guys becoming the best players they
can be. And it often makes the difference between someone having a
five-year career, and someone having a 15-year career.
Things didn’t work out in Cleveland for obvious reasons, but
Andrew developed nicely in Minnesota. There were a lot of questions
about his drive and about his ability to fulfill his potential, and
that probably contributed to Minnesota trading him to Golden State
for D’Angelo Russell.
At the end of the day, though, everyone lands where they’re
D’Angelo is doing well in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and
Andrew looks like he just might be the piece that the Warriors need
to get back on top.
The young Canadian kid, obviously — he’s figured things out in
And you know what? I can’t say I’m surprised.
I’ve believed in him since fate brought us together in Las Vegas
back in 2014.
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