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."
When UC Davis came into the picture, Les first called his son to see what he thought about the possibility. Tyler was 100 percent supportive, though Les gave him a night to sleep on it, then had his wife follow up the next day.
"I thought he was the perfect choice and that he could really take our program to the next level," Tyler said. "I tried to let it run its course. He took an interview and won the job. I don't think I had much to do with it."
They're both happy with how things worked out. This isn't a chance many fathers and sons get during their basketball careers.
These two have been breaking down film together since Tyler was a tot. He became a regular living-room shooter on his mini hoop by age 1.
Even when Les was coaching at Bradley, he would send one of his video guys to Tyler's game to get it on tape.
A self-proclaimed "Type-A personality," Les never sits still. He paces the court during practices and stands throughout games.
"He's a very intense guy. He knows what it takes to win," Tyrell Corbin said. "A lot of the guys are buying into it because he's a former NBA player. He's trying to build success into the program. He's always talking about building a new, winning culture for UC Davis, because in the past we haven't been very successful."
When Les sits in the living room of a recruit and tells his parents just why their son should choose UC Davis for school and basketball, he knows there is no questioning whether his message comes from his heart. He went through it with Tyler only last year.
"It's funny. Now you fast forward a year later and I sit in front of parents who I'm talking to about their son and I say, 'You know what, I'm just going to ask you to do what I did,'" he said. "Before I knew I was coming here to coach, I sent my son here. That tells you what I think of this place. ... I think that's compelling. I'm not just selling this because it's my job and I have to. It's, 'I put my money where my mouth was and sent my oldest son here and he loved it.'"
Those who know Les say his best recruiting tactic is that he sells himself. Tyler still hears from people who loved Les for how hard he played, the energy he brought to the court, even at an undersized 5-foot-11, 165 pounds.
"He's phenomenal," said first-year UC Davis women's coach Jennifer Gross, whose team reached the NCAA tournament last season for the first time while she was an assistant under now-retired Sandy Simpson. "He is a name in the community and it's been amazing how much support we've already garnered just with him coming on board. I feel confident that he's going to get it going at UC Davis. If they do well, it benefits everybody. He has been at so many different levels, playing with the Kings, coaching with the Monarchs. We're thrilled to have him."
Had the Aggies job not happened, Les was prepared to take a year off from the bench and explore some television opportunities. He even considered volunteering for an NBA team.
"It was a long month," Les said of being without work. "I knew there was another challenge, I knew there was another opportunity that was going to present itself, I just didn't know where or when. When we had a chance to come back to this area of the country, which we love, the opportunity to coach my son and the opportunity to build this program from the ground up, you look back and go, 'Gee, it was kind of meant to be.'"
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