Dick Harmon: Austin Ainge loves coaching

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 26 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Former BYU player Austin Ainge, son of Danny, coaches the D-League's Maine Red Claws. Maine faced the Utah Flash Monday in Orem.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Painting Austin Ainge as a professional basketball coach is as easy as connecting dots.

Ainge stopped with his NBA D-League team in Orem on Monday night for a showdown with the Utah Flash. It was his fourth game in five days during a swing through the West.

Coaching the inaugural season of the NBA D-League Maine Red Claws is right down his alley. Ainge's got it in his blood. While most kids grew up playing playground ball with neighbors, Austin Ainge hung around NBA players as his family made the rounds with his famous father/player/coach.

It became a habit.

"This is a great opportunity for me to get into coaching," said Ainge. "I love it. It's tough and it is a challenge to go up against some great players and coaches."

The former Cougar hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, not as a pro player, of course, but as coach and executive in the game he loves. Some folks say Austin, 28, got his job because of his father and they'd be right.

But that doesn't mean he isn't capable or deserving of the work.

The Red Claws are tied to both the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats.

They didn't hire a custodian or figurehead to look pretty and say neat things. They need Austin Ainge to find and develop talent for the big league.

Coaching in the D-League is like stepping into a gladiator arena with a talent pool eager and hungry to churn their wares onto an NBA roster. Don't think for a minute a coach of one of these minor league teams doesn't feel pressure managing egos piled as high as barn hay.

Austin Ainge is barely older than the players. Think his job is easy? "I've learned a hundred things so far," said Austin. "It's been a great opportunity to grow."

The big challenge is working with a roster than changes constantly. "Just when you'd like to put a few more things into the offense you lose players.

You have to keep it simple because there's such a great turnover," he said.

As he paused before the game with the Flash, Utah players greeted Austin with handshakes and inquired of his game at Bakersfield and current players.

"The challenge is to take these guys, who are all trying to score and get stats and get noticed, and get them to play as a team. The good players know that if the team does well, so will they. The highest scoring guy isn't always the one the NBA is looking for," said Austin.

Two weeks ago after the NBA D-League's Showcase in Boise, his father, Celtics President of Basketball operations Danny Ainge, told DLeagueDigest.com he was impressed with D-League play.

"I don't want to discredit the Euro leagues, and I can't really say one way or the other," Danny Ainge said, "but I think some of the D-League teams could compete in some of the better leagues all around the world."

The Red Claws started the season with a loss and then won nine of their next 11 games including a seven-game win streak. They came to Orem to face the Utah Flash Monday after defeating Bakersfield 106-104 on Sunday.

"Portland has a population of about 70,000," said Austin. "We sellout about every game and have a lot of support from our fans. You put Celtics or Red Sox on anything out there and it pretty much works."

One of his players is former New Mexico Lobo star J. R. Giddens, whom the Celtics drafted. Before Monday's game, the Red Claws were 14-9 and in second place in the Eastern Conference, five games behind leader Iowa (20-5). Ainge has the personality for coaching. He's smart, savvy, and is blessed with the insight and perceptiveness needed to do this coaching gig. And like his Pa, is extremely quotable. He knows the game inside and out, can be political and is very organized. He's built a Rolodex with contacts at every level of the game.

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