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Already a two-time NBA champ, Loucks now coaching in Olympics

Luke Loucks left Florida State after the 2011-12 season, helping the Seminoles win the ACC Tournament title. He soon began an overseas odyssey where he played pro basketball in Latvia, Belgium and in the NBA’s developmental league before a final stop in Germany before wrapping up his career. Not long after his playing days ended, Loucks jumped right into coaching. 

He landed in the right spot: The Golden State Warriors, who won NBA titles in 2017 and ’18. Loucks began as a paid intern, analyzing video and helping with player development. He moved into another role where he helped develop prospects on two-way contracts (between the NBA and the developmental league). In the past two years, he has been a player development coach with the Warriors.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after playing,” Loucks said. “I knew I wanted to still be around basketball. I assumed it would be in coaching but I was open to working in the front office or scouting. I just knew I wanted to be around the game. It’s exceeded all of my expectations. That that first season, when I was an intern, that was KD’s (Kevin Durant’s) first season with Golden State. And, obviously, we had a pretty good team. So it was the luck of the draw that I got to join with one of the best teams in the history of basketball and be a part of that and be a part of the culture. Learn from a great staff. First and foremost, I was just blown away by the level of talent, the level of discipline, how much fun those guys had doing something they’re very serious about. So in terms of getting the coaching, it was the absolute perfect storm, the best spot I could have landed. In terms of coaching my five years with the team has been incredible, especially in the NBA, usually you’re stopping one, two, at most three years and you’re bouncing to another team.”

This summer Loucks has turned his attention to the Nigerian basketball team, which knocked off Team USA in Las Vegas in an exhibition on July 10. Nigeria may not be a medal favorite but a team full of college and NBA products will travel to Tokyo to play in the Summer Games (the group stage is July 25-Aug. 1).

Loucks met with the media on Friday afternoon and discussed his coaching career, early conversations about coaching with Leonard Hamilton and Stan Jones as well as the Olympics.

When did you form thoughts of becoming a coach?

Loucks: I think going all the way back to my childhood, I think I had a decent feel. I didn’t know I was going to be coaching but I wanted to be around sports for my entire life. My father was a low-level high school football coach. So I grew up with that in my blood. … Once I got to Florida State, I used to have talks with Stan Jones and Coach Ham all the time, and they used to mess with me like, ‘You’re gonna be a great coach someday.’ And it used to make me a little mad. I was like, ‘No, I want to play. I want I want to get to the pros, I want to do this.’ But I was always realistic. I knew with my body and athleticism and I had a decent skill set, I felt like I was pretty smart on the floor. But I knew I was never going to get to the NBA. Even if it was a dream. So my goal from pretty early on was to play professionally in Europe, which I did. But even over there, I have a lot of friends that play in Euroleague, the highest levels of Europe, that some of those teams could compete with NBA teams. And I knew there was a pretty big separation in talent, athleticism and where these guys are and where I am. So I figured pretty quick, ‘I’m gonna go have fun, I’m gonna compete, I’m going to try to get the most out of this as possible. Probably not going to be a guy that spends 15 years in Europe and moves up to the top levels. But I do want to enjoy the experience. And build relationships and compete, you know, try to win as many games as possible.’ But in the back of my mind, if you put me on a lie detector test, I knew I was probably always preparing for what I’m doing now, which is coaching. And that’s really why I’ve enjoyed this so much, because I think about all the coaches that have helped me along the way and how they’ve done it. And if I can do that for a handful of guys, I think I’m doing my job.

What have you drawn as a coach going back to coach Leonard Hamilton?

Loucks: Obviously, I’ve learned a lot playing in Europe. And I’ve learned quite a deal working with the Warriors staff. But I always go back to, we talked about all the time with with the Warriors and even with Team Nigeria, just the defensive intensity that he demanded out of you. And I was a slow-footed, oversized point guard. I couldn’t slide my feet for anything. But he demanded this level of intensity. ‘If you’re gonna play for me, you’re gonna guard.’ From Day 1, that was something that I learned, playing for coach Ham, and it’s something that I’ll always have, wherever I coach no matter what type of athletes I have, ‘If you’re gonna get on the court, you’re going to guard.’ And to me, that’s why Florida State’s always so difficult to play. Because they bring a level of intent, even if they’re not making shots. Sometimes you have an off game on offense, you turn the ball over, shots don’t fall, you’re going to bring a level of defensive intensity that’s going to give you a chance. Wherever I go to coach next with Nigeria, in the NBA, college, doesn’t matter. I’m going to bring that same thing to the table because I know it can work.

How did the opportunity come about to coach with Nigeria?

Loucks: It was pretty random, to be honest. Mike Brown, one of the main assistants on our (Warriors) staff, he and Ron Adams, another assistant on our staff, kind of took me under their wing. They had mentors when they were young coaches and, for whatever reason, they kind of just took me under their wing. Show you the way. So obviously built some pretty good relationships. December, January-ish of last year, right before COVID. Mike pulls me in his office and said, ‘Hey, these guys have been hitting me up for a couple months now to coach in the Olympics.’ And I was like, ‘Who are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Nigeria.’ At first I said, ‘No.’ I recommended some other people for the job. After thinking about it, they have a lot of talent, could be a place where we can be pretty good, potentially. And actually turn this thing into something pretty powerful. And for him he’s been a head coach for Cleveland twice, and the Lakers and he’s coached some of the best in the game, the Lebrons, the Kobes. Kyrie (Irving). And when he says, ‘These guys have a lot of talent,’ you listen. So once he committed, he pulled me back in and asked to be a part of the staff as one of his assistant coaches. And of course he couldn’t even finish the question. I said, ‘I’m in.’ So that’s kind of how this thing unraveled and, for the past 18 months, we’ve scraped and clawed to put a roster together, Mike’s been working 16-, 18-hour days on end just to get this thing to gel and galvanize and get a roster together and make sure the logistics are in place. You’re basically taking a country which has a pretty rich tradition of basketball talent. But organizationally they didn’t really have what these other world powers had in terms of Spain and France and, of course, Team USA. They have 20, 30 people working on logistics, on flights, on bringing a roster together, you have scouts, you have a GM. Basically, Mike’s been doing it on his own, with the help of us and a GM. We got a lot of talent to join in. A lot of young talent that hopefully we can mold and I think we’re the 22nd, 23rd ranked team in the world right now. By the end of this, we’re hoping to be top 5.

What did the big win over Team USA do for the team’s confidence?

Loucks: We started training camp on June 20. We brought a lot of the young guys that haven’t really been a part of this, couple high school players, couple college players, a lot of European players, worked out with those guys for a week. And then our NBA guys came in, worked out with those guys for another week, before we even took off for Las Vegas. So we’re trying to not only install offensive and defensive principles, but kind of a culture in a really short amount of time, and these guys have never really experienced it. … But up and until that USA game, I’m not saying that there wasn’t faith in what we were doing. but it was like, ‘Is this really gonna work?’ There’s a lot of talent, but it’s kind of chaotic, we got all these guys coming in. None of them have played together. Where at some of these teams, Argentina, Spain, those guys have been playing together since they were 10 years old. So we get to Vegas, and everyone’s a little nervous and anxious. We’re playing the best team in the world. And then we start playing. It’s like, ‘Oh, shoot, this is pretty good.’ Our defense is really good. We knew we’re athletic. And we knew we could fly around. But this could be special. And then of course, against Team USA, we made a ton of shots. I think we made 20 3s. We shot like 26 3s in the first half, which wasn’t necessarily our game plan. But sometimes over the course of the game, especially against a good team, you just got to adjust on the fly. So we knew we wanted to pick up full court, we knew we wanted to be intense on defense. Offensively, the biggest principles we gave them was share the ball. That’s obviously one of our big things with Golden State, we’re not going to do this alone, we’re going to pass a lot, we’re gonna move the ball, we’re going to cover each other, we’re gonna screen for each other. And if you have an open shot, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to shoot it. We’re not hunting shots for people, we’re hunting good shots. And over the course of 40 minutes against the USA, things just kind of clicked and came together. And obviously, it was a blast, a lot of fun. The guys were going nuts in the locker room. It was the first time any African team has ever beat the United States in basketball. So it was a pretty special thing.

Luke Loucks talks with coach Leonard Hamilton during a game in March 2012. (photo by Ross Obley)