Utah Jazz: Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey says ex-Ute Alex Jensen has a 'bright future' in the NBA
The two seemed an odd match, Majerus a foul-mouthed son of a union leader from the Midwest and Jensen, a mild-mannered LDS returned missionary from Centerville. A lot of folks were surprised when Jensen went on to spend four years as an assistant to Majerus.
“It was funny — we had different backgrounds, but that’s why we got along so well,’’ says Jensen. “Once we got on the court, we were very similar as far as not wanting to lose and doing things right.’’
Jensen never has a sour word to say about Majerus and he’s aware the former Ute coach had his detractors.
“Whether you liked him or not, the thing I learned was that no matter what, for 20 hours a week, he was there for every second. He walked into practice and he was focused and into it. He might have been grumpy, but he never had a bad day as far as coaching went.’’
So when Jensen decided to grab an opportunity to become a head coach in the NBA D-League and leave Saint Louis, it was tough to tell his longtime mentor.
“It was a hard phone call to make,’’ Jensen recalls. “It was right before the season started, so he wasn’t too happy about the timing. But he was supportive. One thing you realize in the coaching profession is the timing is never right.’’
Jensen coached in Canton for two years and was named the coach of the year for the 2012-13 season. Then he had another decision to make — keep doing what he was doing or move back to his old stomping grounds for a job with the Utah Jazz.
“I thought because of the profession I chose, the likelihood of me coming back to Salt Lake was slim, but after the season Coach Corbin called me,’’ Jensen recalls. “I was coming out anyway because I had two cousins getting married. I enjoyed what I was doing before, but I guess this was the next progression.’’
The easygoing Jensen is the first to tell you he’s not an ambitious, climb-the-ladder type of person. But’s he’s been a wanted man in recent years.
“I’ve been lucky,’’ he says. “Coach Majerus asked me to coach with him. I had no plans on leaving Saint Louis and got a call from Wes Wilcox who was in Cleveland. I was enjoying Ohio when I got the call from Coach Corbin.’’
Jensen had 109 games of head coaching experience in the D-League, but has had to get used to his new spot just behind the Jazz bench.
“If nothing else, it makes you a better assistant because you understand the movement a chair or two over is a big difference,’’ he said.
So what does the future hold for Jensen? Does he want to return to college coaching and perhaps be a head coach someday? Or would he rather stick with the pros and work his way up through the ranks as an assistant?
“I get asked that quite a bit and I feel like I should have some sort of aspiration, but I really don’t,’’ he says. “The enjoyable thing, whether it’s at a university or the pros, is to be on a staff that is like-minded and that’s what I enjoy here, especially the coaching staff. It’s a much different game. You never want to lose, but it has been good.’’
Lindsey won’t come out and say Jensen can be a head coach in the league some day, but he is very high on his coaching ability.
“He has the kind of demeanor that he could be a future assistant coach on the bench,’’ Lindsey said. “He has the background and expertise that players will respect.’’
Lindsey points out that the D-League is an even better league for coaches than it is for players and that it has helped Jensen.
“At some point of the season, you’re going to have the worst team in the league or the best team, because the players come and go so quick,’’ he said. “You have to adjust quickly to the different talents and personalities on the fly and that’s a very important part of a coach’s training ground’’
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that Jensen could end up coaching an NBA team some day, even the Utah Jazz.
Look around the NBA at coaches like Miami’s Erik Spoelstra or Indiana’s Frank Vogel, who both started as video coordinators and had no real head coaching experience before working their way up to their current jobs. Or Memphis’ Dave Joerger, who won some championships in the D-League like Jensen did before becoming an NBA head coach.
Perhaps that will be Jensen’s eventual destiny.
It wouldn’t surprise Lindsey, who says of Jensen, “I think he has a bright future in the league.’’
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