MILWAUKEE — Often, while at Duke University, a young Quin Snyder might make an occasional on-court mistake and think he had gotten away with it as the point guard.
Only to learn that a glaring eye on the sidelines also witnessed the same look once he reached the huddle.
“As a player, you were like ‘he saw that, too? Man, I didn’t think he was watching.’ But it’s the reason he’s been so successful,” Snyder said of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“No one’s been as successful as him, but he’s been successful in the ’80s, in the ’90s and in the millennial, and that speaks to his ability to adapt, not just to the game, because as the game changes he adapts, but he’s been able to adapt to people and to players,” he added.
Now, those roles have changed as Snyder has put in the work to develop respect throughout his five-year head coaching tenure with the Utah Jazz.
Players and peers see him as one of the brightest minds in the business, which was evident even after Utah’s 114-102 loss at Milwaukee Tuesday when Giannis Antetokounmpo called him “a really smart coach” for cross-matching Jazz center Rudy Gobert on him defensively from the opening tip.
“I’m biased, but I think he’s one of the best coaches in the league,” said Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who coached with him in Atlanta in 2013-14.
Utah (20-21) will return home to host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at Vivint Arena. Snyder, 52, is just three wins away from becoming the third coach in Jazz history to rack up 200 victories for the franchise.
He finished runner-up in the Coach of the Year voting last season, where Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant even lobbied for him to win the award after helping Utah turn around the year while winning 29 of their last 35 regular season games to earn a playoff spot.
“If there was ever even a doubt as to who should be Coach of the Year, the people who are second-guessing that need to have their voting credentials removed,” Bryant told USA Today Sports in April.
Snyder’s road to head coach included stops in Los Angeles with the Clippers and Lakers, Philadelphia, the University of Missouri, Russia and Atlanta with the Austin Toros of the D-League — plus a solid college career at Duke from 1985-89, where he reached three NCAA Final Fours. He pursued NBA basketball briefly after attending training camp with the Indiana Pacers but chose coaching as his calling.
“I’m so very proud of Quin. He loves the game and he thinks the game and he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant, on and off the court,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s one of the top scholar athletes here at Duke University.
“As my point guard, he handled my team so well then as an assistant, I knew right away that this guy was destined to be an outstanding head coach,” he continued. “I think his work really when he was in the D League helped him a lot, where he was with the Spurs affiliate and was able to share ideas with (San Antonio Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich and his staff, and what he’s done in Utah has been phenomenal. I admire what he’s done and love what he’s doing.”
What Coach K was doing for him at Duke, he’s now doing the same for Jazz guards Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Dante Exum and fellow Blue Devils product Grayson Allen. The lingo may be a little different, but it’s essentially the same principles.
“Coach Snyder definitely has some things he picked up from Coach K in film,” Allen said. “And there’s a lot of things, even some sayings that Coach K uses all the time. Some things he would get on us for were some of Coach K’s pet peeves, too.”
In addition to Allen being taken 21st overall by the Jazz in the 2018 NBA draft, Snyder has tapped into other Duke connections in Salt Lake City. Antonio Lang is on the Jazz’s staff as an assistant, recently being promoted to the front of the bench this offseason, while others such as Rodney Hood were with the squad in the past. Lang also played for Krzyzewski at Duke from 1990-94 where he won back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992.
“We’re really happy that he gave Antonio Lang an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said. “Antonio was coaching in Japan, and I think there was an adjustment period when you go from coaching in Japan to the NBA, but Antonio has really made that adjustment well.
“He’s a good person and he’s not only a good coach but he’s somebody that you would want your guys to be around on a day-to-day basis.”
More so than the Xs and Os, numbers or any records, Snyder said he considers himself lucky and over time becomes even more grateful to have someone like Krzyzewski in his life. Their bond is deeper than basketball.
“There were always times where what you did from a basketball standpoint, you realized that it was secondary for Coach when it compared to what’s going on in your life,” Snyder said. “The things that I’ve benefitted from and taken from him are there’s so many of them that are just personal and the support that I got and the advice that I got, both as a coach and as a father and in every capacity, that’s unique.”
Snyder’s three-hour-long practices in Utah were at one point mythical around the NBA, which he eventually clarified as “urban legend.” But that attention to detail in a mad scientist approach is why Krzyzewski feels his coaching talents were better suited for the NBA game all along in his own way. So those same mistakes Krzyzewski were calling him out on at Duke, Snyder also catches them with guys like Mitchell and Rubio in Utah.
“What Quin has done is incorporate the principles of everyone he’s worked with,” Krzyzewski said. “Whether it be here at Duke as a player or as an assistant, but also from what he’s learned from not just the head coaches in the NBA but from the assistants, the teaching methods.1 comment on this story
“I think the pro game was what he was destined to do because he needs to do it all the time,” he continued. “He needs to be in his lab all the time, not recruiting or doing anything like that, and as a result, he keeps getting better and better, but he’s his own guy, and that’s the way all the guys should be. They should just incorporate things they like from people they’ve worked with or played against or coached against but really follow their own heart, and Quin has definitely followed his own heart.”