Danny Ainge has been a role model to me ever since I was a young boy. I watched him make the winning layup for BYU against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament in 1981, watched him play in the NBA for 14 years and coach the Phoenix Suns, and watched him win an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics as the president of basketball operations.
I caught up with Danny last week and here is part of our conversation:
Hansen: How is your family doing?
Ainge: Family is doing great. I only have two kids at home now, Cooper and Crew. They both play basketball for their high school team and it has been very enjoyable to watch them play together.
Cooper is having a great senior year and is excited to go to BYU next year. My son Tanner and his wife welcomed two twin girls into their family on Christmas day and that makes 10 grandchildren for my wife and I now. Grandchildren are a very fun part of life.
Hansen: Who had the biggest influence on your career?
Ainge: I would say that my high school coach Barney Holland, my college coach Frank Arnold and my BYU assistant coach Roger Reid.
I have always felt that I was very fortunate to be taught by such great coaches early in life. I felt like I was very prepared when I entered the NBA because I knew the fundamentals.
Coach Holland was a legendary high school coach in Oregon. I had two older brothers that played for him and I always hung around them so I ended up actually being coached by Coach Holland for six or seven years. I feel as though he was as good a coach that I have ever had or been around my entire life.
And then at BYU, Frank gave me a lot of freedom to play. I loved his offensive system and he gave me a lot of confidence. And Roger Reid really pushed me to work hard. I always thought that I was a hard worker but Roger pushed me to levels that I never thought that I could reach.
Hansen: You are president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics and bishop of your home ward in Boston. How do you balance those two responsibilities?
Ainge: It is not as difficult as it seems. If you have great leadership it makes your job very easy.
Hansen: What is your favorite scripture?
Ainge: Wow, that is a tough one. I haven’t been asked that since my seminary days. I have many scriptures I love but the one that stands out right now is 1 Nephi 8:11-12. I love Lehi’s vision and how he had such a great desire that his family partake of the fruit also. I really believe in righteous family living. My life experience tells me that it is extremely important as well. And the opposite is true that unrighteous family living can destroy families.
Hansen: Advice to young athletes?
Ainge: Find joy in the game. I see so many kids with too much stress and I find myself wishing they could find the joy in the game. I think it is really important to get your life in order, with as few distractions as possible. Whether that is school work, friends or whatever may be pulling you down from playing that game you love. You need a good balance in life.
Hansen: Favorite electronic device?
Ainge: My iPhone. I use it a lot but what I find that is most enjoyable about it is that my kids and grandkids show me how to use it. They show me all the new apps, bells and whistles you can do with it.
Hansen: Have you been following Jimmer Fredette this year?
Ainge: I haven’t had any time to watch how he has been playing or study him but I have noticed that he is getting a chance to play. I saw he has started a few games since (Marcus) Thorton has been injured, but I haven’t had a chance to study or evaluate his overall game in the NBA. It is great that he is getting an opportunity to play and you have to give guys time to figure out the league. One thing I do know is that shooters are hard to find and especially shooters that can make a high percentage of shots and Jimmer can shoot.
Hansen: How do young kids improve their game?
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Ainge: Learning how to play, execute and play as a team is crucial. A lot of kids spend so much time on individual skills, which is important, like ball handling. But learning the strategy of the game is so crucial. It is important to teach them how to think and learn the game just as much as working on their skills.
Hansen: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Ainge: That is funny you ask 'cause my wife and I discuss that all the time. We are not sure where we will be or what we will be doing, but we will stay busy. I know that.
Travis Hansen is a former BYU, NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and Euroleague basketball player. He co-founded the Little Heroes Foundation and is married with three children.