Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
DAVIS, Calif. — Jim Les always thought his son might stay home in Illinois to play college basketball and join him at Bradley. It had become the family fallback plan.
Neither could have envisioned things going the complete opposite — with father following son some 2,000 miles across the country to UC Davis, where Tyler is a sophomore guard and his dad is the Aggies' first-year coach.
That's just how it has gone for Les during a journeyman career in the NBA and as a coach: He keeps coming full circle.
Les has returned to the Sacramento area, where he became a fan favorite while spending four of his seven NBA seasons with the Kings and later worked as an assistant with the now-defunct WNBA Monarchs.
The 48-year-old Les used to have training camp at UC Davis under then-Kings coach Dick Motta.
"I do everything full circle. I went to Bradley and that came full circle," he said of his alma mater. "I was living in this area and came full circle. I don't know what it is, maybe I'm a homebody by nature. The time I spent here, being with the Kings and after the Kings, I loved this area and the Sacramento region."
And he loves formally coaching his son at last. Tyler is one of three experienced players on the rebuilding team whose fathers played in the NBA.
Les hopes they all will help put Davis on the national map before long. He is challenged with building a program that is still in the infancy of its move to Division I status. The school endured a four-year transition leading up to its start as an official Division I member for the 2007-08 season.
"We have a lot of work to do. There's really no Division I tradition and history," Les said. "They've got great tradition and history in Division II and success. Since we made the move and jumped up, it's a chance to make your mark on a program and build from the ground up."
It's been a tough start for the Aggies (1-7), who are off for final exams this week before playing at Hawaii on Sunday. Les stresses finding small ways to improve each day — something he heard from new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
This isn't so different from his path as a journeyman player, when "a door closing always opened up another road," Les said.
Fired by Bradley back in March after nine seasons, Les spent all of about a month unemployed last spring.
"My experience at Bradley was really good for me and it has prepared me very well to handle this experience," he said. "I've never had anything given to me. I'm used to working for things, whether it was people telling me as a player, 'You're too small, you're too slow, you can't jump high enough.' When I got to the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs, it was, 'Hey, you've never been involved as a coach, you've never dealt with women's basketball players.' I overcame that and was able to contribute. At Bradley, they had nine wins the year before I got there and the program was struggling. Each time I've kind of had a unique set of circumstances presented to me and said, 'You know what, I'm going to try to overcome.'"
Les brings instant credibility to UC Davis. Just ask dynamic freshman Tyrell Corbin. The son of Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin immediately chose to play for Les after waiting to see who the school hired as its new head coach.
When Les came aboard, it was a no-brainer. Les and Tyrone Corbin were briefly NBA teammates with Atlanta.
Hersey Hawkins' son, Corey, a transfer sitting out this season after playing at Arizona State as a freshman, is the third player with an NBA father.
But there are no perks about it.
"He treats everyone the same way. It's very demanding," Tyler Les said. "We know our relationship on the court and off the court. I think we've done a really good job of keeping those separate."
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