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.
KFAN radio's Pat Kinehan used to cover Austin Ainge for the Salt Lake Tribune at the same time I did for the Deseret News and Austin was a daily quote trough we fed at often. "It was obvious Austin was media savvy. He has the ability to be analytical, funny and cynical all in one interview, "said Kinehan. "It's clear he is on the fast track."
Kinehan remembers when BYU's Keena Young was named the MVP of the league and the Tribune mistakenly ran a big picture of Rashaun Broadus with the announcement story. At the next media access, Kinehan remembers, "Austin said he wouldn't talk to me because he didn't want to be identified as Sam Burgess."
BYU coach Dave Rose always praised Austin for his coaching mindset when he played for the Cougars, a career that ended three years ago in Provo. Rose and Austin talk all the time, usually about players the Cougar staff has faced.
"He has a very good basketball mind and a great offensive basketball mind in terms of spacing of the floor, putting players in position to score," said Rose. "He says he loves it. It's way different. Travel in that league is brutal. A lot of times you are on a bus from city to city, small town to small town. So far it's everything he thought it would be."
Unlike Rose and many other coaches who toil at small high schools or a junior college, Ainge started his career on a fast track. After leaving BYU he landed a full-time assistant Division I job with Roger Reid at SUU. He then accepted a scout job for the Boston Celtics. And yes, it didn't hurt that his father, Danny Ainge, is the Boston Celtics president.
"He's paying his dues now, though," said Rose of the hectic travel and bus rides from city to city the Maine Red Claws endure.
"It's like a junior college on steroids."
"That D-league has a lot of good players and trying to make a team out of that group who are trying to start their careers is a challenge.
"I don't know if I've given him much advice other than just get good players; good players can make good coaches. I asked him how his family was doing with this hectic schedule and he said I ought to give Crystal (his wife) a call and ask her cause he hadn't seen her for a while."
"They're always looking for good players," said Rose.
"He sounds pretty much like he sounded as a player. He has a coaches' mind, he's got a good group of guys. It's different in that if the guys don't perform like they should, he moves on and brings in some new ones."
Rose said Austin called him right after the win over UTEP because the Miners had two or three players of interest. "Because he played them and watched about 10 of their games, he knew we'd be familiar with their entire season."
Red Claws president and general manager Jon Jennings said Austin Ainge's ability to hit him with ideas and player evaluations impressed him right out of the chute during a coaching search for the franchise.
"Austin Ainge brings that to our team. He blew me away with his ability to analyze players and game strategy. When I was a young coach with the Celtics, video was the new revolution. Today, it's statistical analysis.
Austin brings that to a whole new level. Combine that with his ability to develop players and his background, and he is going to be a fantastic head coach."31 comments on this story
"Austin [is] a great communicator and teacher," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "As a player Austin has received great coaching, and you can see that in his coaching. He's been involved in basketball most of his life. It [made] perfect sense."
The Red Claws play at Idaho Wednesday before home games against Erie and Springfield Friday and Sunday. He may see his sons Andre and Finley during the weekend.
Yup, the man is certainly coaching.