Keith Bogans Is Shooting To Transition From NBA Player To Coach
Bogans is approaching this next chapter the same way that he did as a player who had to fight for his job every day of his playing career.
BY ALEJANDRO DANOIS, THE SHADOW LEAGUE
Keith Bogans loved playing basketball growing up in the Washington, D.C. area. But he especially enjoyed those runs on Sunday’s with the older men who were more than twice his age.
The D.C area has produced some remarkable talent, serving as the developmental incubator for the likes of Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor, Lawrence Moten, Sherman Douglas, Johnny Dawkins, Adrian Dantley, Kevin Durant, Curt “Trouble” Smith, Big John Thompson, Tommy Amaker, Steve Francis, Len Bias, Walt Williams and countless others.
So when a young, muscular kid pops on the scene at an early age with a subtly mature, scientific understanding of the game, whose rebounding, passing and scoring ability makes old men smirk while nodding their heads, and allows him to give out some serious work to grown folks who are much more seasoned in the physical essence of the D.C. playground game, word spreads.
By the time he’d reached the sixth grade, Bogans was perplexed as to why so many older men took delight in watching him play. And he was often confused when they’d ask him for his phone number.
Up until the eighth grade, he was simply playing ball and doing what he loved, paying little attention to the buzz that followed him into every gym. But that quickly changed when he saw a legend in one of those gyms, staring at him with the same look that he’d grown accustomed to seeing from educated basketball folks that knew what they were seeing.
“When I saw Morgan Wooten in the gym watching me during a tournament at Bullis High School when in the eighth grade, and when I learned that he showed up to recruit me to come play my high school ball at DeMatha, that’s when the light bulb went on,” said Bogans.
Once he eventually matriculated to the Catholic school with a long-deserved reputation as a national hoops powerhouse, he began to understand that his love of basketball, and the skills that had so many enamored with his game, had a chance to propel him far beyond just the D.C. scene.
“I was just a kid, but there was a lot of hype on the local scene about me going to DeMatha,” said Bogans. “I became one of the few freshmen that came in and wound up playing all four years on the varsity. At that point, when I first got there, I started thinking that I could get a college scholarship. A few years later, Tubby Smith, the head coach at the University of Kentucky was in the gym recruiting me. From that point, things really clicked and there was no looking back.”
As a senior, Bogans had blossomed into a 6-foot-5 guard that had coaches from the country’s top NCAA programs salivating. He helped lead the school to a 34-1 record and a No.3 national ranking.
Along with his DeMatha teammate Joe Forte, he was named a prestigious McDonald’s All-American, playing alongside future NBA players like Jonathan Bender, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Richardson and Jay Williams.
At Kentucky, he was a four-year starter. As a sophomore, he was being recognized as one of the best players in the country after averaging 17 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. During his senior year in 2002-03, the Wildcats did not lose a single game in-conference, finished 32-4 and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Dwyane Wade’s Marquette squad.
“Before the NBA Draft, Tubby Smith gave me some of the most valuable information in terms of my career,” said Bogans. “In order to make it at that next level, I had to find something I was good at, and master it. Leading up to the draft, I was super excited because I never really imagined that I would one day have the opportunity of playing in the NBA. Being from the D.C. area, the last kid we’d seen do it really big from the area was Steve Francis.”
Bogans accepted that in the pro game, he’d have to be a role player that brought value to his team, both in games and in practice. Early on, he learned that he had a good feel for helping his teammates and being an unselfish peer mentor.
He’d accumulated a wealth of knowledge from Wooten while at DeMatha and from Smith during his time at Kentucky. And he was fortunate that his first NBA coach was a great teacher who also took a personal interest in his development.
“Doc Rivers was my first NBA coach, and he’d made the transition from being a player to being a head coach,” said Bogans. “Doc was my role model. He was a tough defensive player, a great high school and college player who played a crucial supporting role to his teams as a pro. He coached me my rookie year with the Orlando Magic and gave me a great opportunity to learn about what it takes to make it in the pro game.”
Bogans started 36 games as a rookie, averaging seven points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats and started in 42 games the next year, putting up 10 points per game. He proceeded to bounce around the league for a total of 11 years while also suiting up for Rockets, Bucks, Spurs, Bulls, Nets and Celtics.
He realized that coaching could one day be in his future because of the ease in which he related to his teammates, how they gravitated towards him, and how he enjoyed sharing the lessons he’d learned throughout his own hoops journey.
“With me being a journeyman in the NBA, with having to earn every minute of the experience because nothing was ever given to me, that benefitted me,” said Bogans. “It’s very hard to make it in this league. It’s even harder to stay. I learned that if you work hard as a player and stay out of trouble, you can make a lot of money and take care of your family. A lot of people were telling me that I’d never make it in the league, or if I did, I wouldn’t be around long. So when I started to think about coaching, I knew I could bring something of value to a coaching staff. Because I know what players go through mentally. And not just on the court, either. I know what it takes because I’ve been through it from a perspective that most people don’t even consider.”
After suiting up for his last game in 2014, he took some time away from the sport to re-charge his battery, knowing all along that he wanted to make the transition into coaching.
He reached out to the Player’s Association seeking advice, and spoke with Rory Sparrow, the NBA’s Vice President of Player Development. Sparrow and Bogans had a lot in common as players who carved out careers as solid role players for ten-plus years, with both of them known as men of good character.
Sparrow has been around the league for close to 25 years, a steady former player who transitioned into an executive role in various capacities, who now uses his vast accumulated knowledge to help players like Bogans by providing programs, services and resources that focus on professional and personal development.
“Rory said, ‘I think the NBA Assistant Coaches Program would be great for you, Boges. You’ve always had a great nose for the ball,’” said Bogans. “He explained the program to me and I was like, ‘I’m in!’”
The goal of the Assistant Coaches Program is to prepare current and former NBA, WNBA and G-League players for coaching careers after their playing days have ended. The program provides participants with a series of comprehensive, hands-on coaching experiences that are designed to develop and sharpen the skills that are required to be a successful coach.
Specific emphasized skills include, but are not limited to, teaching the game, game preparation, strategy development and player scouting, communication and development. First implemented in 1988, the Assistant Coaches Program has exposed over 150 former players to NBA GMs, coaches and NBA/G-League team personnel as viable coaching candidates.
Some program alumni include San Antonio Spurs Vice President of Basketball Operations Monty Williams, Cleveland Cavs Assistant Coach James Posey, UNC-Charlotte Head Coach Mark Price, Chicago Bulls Assistant Coach Pete Myers, Brooklyn Nets Assistant Coach Jacque Vaughn, New Orleans Pelicans Assistant Coach Robert Pack and Orlando Magic Assistant Coach Corliss Williamson, among many others.
But the process to be selected into the program is extremely selective and competitive. Not everyone gets chosen to participate.
"We founded the Assistant Coaches Program years ago to honor and respond to the desire that many of our former players had about going into coaching," said Greg Taylor, the Senior Vice President of Player Development for the National Basketball Association. "They've spent the majority of their life playing, being mentored by some tremendous coaches. Current and former players have a real affinity on the coaching side, so we wanted to put a program in place that built on the interest that the jump into coaching demonstrated."
"It's a competitive program, the spots are limited," Taylor continued. "When we select our players to be in the program, we're looking for guys like Keith that have a knowledge and passion for the game, who are receptive to what they're embarking on. It's an arduous and difficult process. We want guys who understand and respect that journey, who have the grit, resiliency and the problem solving skills to be successful as they make this transition."
Bogans gave himself a leg up on the competition by spending a few weeks in the summer of 2016 with his friend and former NBA player Jerry Stackhouse in Toronto.
“Stack’s the head coach of Toronto’s G-League team and spending that time with him in that role was a great experience,” said Bogans. “I told him that I was interested in coaching and he told me to come out there with him to see how it works and the details that go into it. I did that on my own.”
Their days started at 5:30 AM with breakfast and film sessions, and didn’t end until around 11:00 PM.
“Stack gave me a taste of everything, and I was able to have a hands-on internship in terms of working with the players, being in and participating in the meetings and watching, studying and breaking down the film,” Bogans said.
Once selected into the NBA Assistant Coaches Program, he sat through days worth of seminars at the league’s Manhattan office, clad in his new uniform of business attire.
“I got assigned a great mentor in Butch Carter, who was an excellent coach in the NBA,” said Bogans. “He’s old school, and he’s teaching us so much stuff in terms of strategy, work ethic, preparation, analytics and a little bit of everything that goes into coaching. And the things we’re learning, we get to apply them right away with kids who are more prone to listen because they want to make it to that next level. They’re super receptive to teaching because they’re hungry.”
The opportunities to bring those classroom lessons and the mentorship that Carter provided took place at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and the G-League Invitational.
“At Portsmouth, I was given a team and had to incorporate putting plays in while working alongside other coaches,” said Bogans. “But I was basically given the reigns. We played a total of three games, so you have to plan and coordinate practices, along with going out to scout the games of the other participants in the program, giving and getting feedback on what we did and didn’t do. You’re basically thrown into the fire and we’re critiqued on all that we did, the good and the bad. Portsmouth was a great experience for me.”
Once the tournament ended, it was back to the NBA offices this summer for more group meetings and individual sessions with their coaching mentors. From there, Bogans was assigned to the G-League Invitational in Chicago.
The G-League event is different from Portsmouth in that the players pay $150 to try out. So they’re not walking in with sparkling college resumes and big names.
“In Chicago, we participated in more seminars and then it was a lot of sitting down with Butch as we went over coaching strategies, analytics and breaking down different variables, given the overall construction of the teams there,” said Bogans. “So, given that environment, with guys that don’t have pro experience, you also have to show an ability to look for talent, scout and coach at the same time.”
The other valuable aspect of those experiences for Bogans was the chance to network with NBA and G-League executives, who are there scouting and working to improve their own teams.
“And they’re also looking for good young coaches,” said Bogans. “So it’s a great opportunity to be seen within that element of coaching while rubbing shoulders with people who are looking to hire you. That’s another thing that the program teaches you because some people take it for granted. Because there’s a lot that goes into the right ways to network, how to present yourself, how to communicate with GM’s. You have to be ready to sell yourself if you have a 30-second elevator ride with a GM. You have to know your pitch, be able to concisely let them know what you bring to the table, why they could benefit from having you, how you can make a positive impact on the players, the team and the overall organizational culture.”
"When you meet Keith and understand who he is, he's immensely likeable," said his mentor Butch Carter, the former NBA player and coach. "And just from watching him, he's one of the two or three candidates in the program who are super around the players. He's very good on the development side, and the other stuff like advanced scouting and post-game reporting, which is all computerized now, he's becoming more interested in. As he bumps his head, he's going to want to master something else, and those things won't be alien or foreign to him because he's been exposed to them in the program."
Bogans is approaching this next chapter in the same way that he did as a player who seemingly had to fight for his job every day of his playing career.
“I want to get a coaching position in the G-League and work my way up from there,” Bogans said. “Right now, I’m working with Butch and Rory at the league office and feeling my way through. I know that one day I’ll be working in the NBA. If I can combine my playing experience and knowledge with coaching and eventually working in a front office capacity, I feel like I can do whatever I want to from there.”
"Keith has the natural gift, he just has to make the adjustment," said Carter.
“My goals right now are to get on, and get this coaching experience under my belt," said Bogans. "Once I get with a team, I’m diving in head first.”
One thing's for certain. When that call comes, in the same way that he did when he played, Keith Bogans will be ready.