This season, a large factor contributing to the Texas Legends having a franchise-record of FIVE players called up to the NBA was the number of players who once played in the NBA. However, Texas also had three assistant coaches – Vin Baker, Charlie Bell and Zendon Hamilton – who are former NBA players.
Baker, Bell, and Hamilton have combined careers playing more than 1,300 games in the Association for various teams. Bob MacKinnon Jr., who just wrapped up his first season as the Legends’ head coach, knows that this experienced trio had a big impact on his players throughout the season.
It’s not just college experience. It’s NBA experience, and that’s important because guys have to understand how to work at this level… How to prepare your body at this level. Everything that it takes both on and off the court from nutrition to rest to working out,” MacKinnon Jr. said.
“They can really relate to our guys from a career standpoint. It’s not like when you’re in college, (when) you have to go to class. No, this is your focus now, and this is what’s going to take care of you and your family. Hopefully, for the rest of your life.”
Vin Baker, 45, was a lottery pick in the 1993 NBA Draft and a four-time All-Star before substance abuse derailed his career. Being a Legends assistant, where his primary responsibility is working with the team’s big men, has been a first-time opportunity he’s welcomed.
“It’s been a great experience,” Baker said. “Playing and coaching are two different things. Successful NBA players don’t turn into successful basketball coaches because they didn’t really work the process. Coming down here with the Legends has allowed me to learn the process. The game is different now for big men. Obviously, it’s (now all about) stretch fours and stretch fives. It’s complicated to learn, but you do have to learn how to do it. I’ve gotten a chance to come here and learn how the game has changed under a great coach and a great staff.”
Charlie Bell, 38, reached the NBA as an undrafted free agent. The former Michigan State standout also played overseas and in the ABA, a short-lived American professional league named after the American Basketball Association of the 1960s and 1970s. He even played a few games with the Dallas Mavericks. Bell’s unique path to play nearly 400 NBA games, as someone who went undrafted and played all over before finding a home in the Association, made him a great source of information for the Legends players.
I definitely know what it’s like (to be in their shoes),” Bell said. “The path that’s not always taken. Nowadays, you see a lot more guys make it because teams are scouting the D-League more. They scout overseas a lot more, and one thing that they want to see is continuous improvement. That’s what we do with these guys every day… Try to help them get better every day. As long as you continue to stay encouraged and you stay in the gym, getting better, working on whatever you need to work on, you may have a chance. It’s not guaranteed, but your focus is on when that opportunity comes, you have to be ready.”
Zendon Hamilton, 41, traveled a similar route as Bell making the NBA as an undrafted free agent who also played in several other domestic leagues and abroad during his time as a professional.
All three former NBA players gave the Legends players an accurate portrayal of not just what life was like in the Association, but also about what it takes to get there and what they would have to do in order to stick in the league.
But the compelling story of Baker, who went from being a lottery pick and an All-Star to being out of the league due to off-court issues, is a tale he doesn’t hide from. It’s a story the Texas players know and one they can learn from.
I think at this stage of it the guys know it (my story),” Baker said. “If you’re doing the right things on the court and off the court, I have more of a voice from being an All-Star and than going through some tumultuous times. I’m an example of going from the University of Hartford, from falling down, from getting up. It’s exactly what I feel that these guys need to know to get where they want to go.
In a way, my story embodies exactly where I’m at, and that’s what I like to share with them. We don’t talk about it all the time, but they know it. So, when we come and talk to Jamal Warney, or tell Satnam (Singh), or any of my bigs what to do, they have a connection there.”
Another aspect of his time with the Legends, which Baker has particularly enjoyed, is the opportunity to get to know the players and build a relationship on strong mutual respect between both parties.
I care about the kids,” Baker said. “At this level, you have to have a level of coaching experience AND you have to be able to care about who you’re dealing with. I think that’s why this has been such a great experience for me.”
Baker and Bell both joined the Legends via the NBA’s Assistant Coach Program (ACP), where former players serve as assistant coaches in the D-League to get a taste of what that side of basketball is like to see if coaching is something they’d like to pursue in the future. But since Baker and Bell were basically coaching interns with Texas, they’re both looking for their next positions. However, Bell feels that after spending a season with the Legends and working with MacKinnon Jr. that he’s in a much better position to land another coaching job.
I think he (MacKinnon Jr.) really cares about his players and he cares about his coaches a whole lot,” Bell said. “I couldn’t ask for a better situation. Before and after games, he takes our input. A couple times this season, we had a coaching session where we’d just go in the locker room. He’d give us a scenario and we’d have to draw up a play.”
Bell knows that doing a great job working for someone like MacKinnon, who not only has a wealth of D-League coaching experience, but also in the collegiate ranks, is something that will only help his efforts to further his career in coaching.
He really cares about his players and coaches. I know in the future, whenever I need him, I can call on him and he’ll take my call right away,” Bell said. “He’s definitely a great guy and this has been a great experience coaching with him. He knows a lot about the game and I’ve learned a lot this season just being a part of this staff.”