Will Weaver’s first college coaching experience barely came with an invitation, let alone a job offer. His first foray into the NBA wasn’t defined much better. But the new coach of the Long Island Nets doesn’t mind leaping into a new challenge or chasing an opportunity.
So when the position of head coach for the Brooklyn Nets’ NBA G League affiliate opened up, Weaver – after two seasons on Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson’s staff – jumped at it.
“The opportunity is one that I was preparing for depending on where it might take place,” said Weaver. “I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have the chance here as early as I did. But looking after the way we organize our development piece, the two-way players, the G League roster guys that are on two-way contracts are guys that I looked after their development last year with our team when they were with Brooklyn. So I had a lot of familiarity with their roster and watched their season closely and so when the opportunity came up, I put my hand up and was pretty excited to pursue it.”
The 34-year-old was announced as Long Island’s head coach last week after Ronald Nored, the team’s coach for its first two seasons, departed for a job on Charlotte’s NBA staff.
A little over a decade ago, Weaver was essentially a walk-on to the staff at the University of Texas, getting his start during Kevin Durant’s lone season with the Longhorns. Weaver had grown up in Austin and graduated from the school. While an undergrad, he’d gotten the coaching itch working with kids and quickly become enmeshed in the game.
Getting more involved, working camps at the university, his ambitions expanded. So he went full speed ahead when the possibility of a place within the Longhorn program presented itself.
“They gave me the faintest of hints that I might be able to volunteer with the team if I was a grad student,” said Weaver. “Some other guys had had some success doing that in the past. The first sentence I got of that, I went and took the GRE and applied to school there to give myself a chance to be involved. Within a year I was on staff and had the chance to be with them for a pretty special period of time for four years.”
Weaver’s leap of faith was a life-changing move. From Austin, he headed three hours east to become an assistant at Sam Houston State. While there, he made a crucial connection that would set him on his present course in Sam Hinkie, the assistant general manager for the Houston Rockets, who would soon take over as GM in Philadelphia.
Hinkie’s invitation for Weaver to join him with the Sixers didn’t come with much in the way of details at first.
“There’ll be plenty of work to do,” is how Weaver described Hinkie’s pitch. “We’ll figure it out. Come on.”
Weaver’s wife, Lauren, a pediatrician, also had a career opportunity to do her residency in Philadelphia, so he took Hinkie up on the offer. At the time, Hinkie had yet to even hire head coach Brett Brown. Brown, having been an assistant coach in San Antonio for the previous 11 seasons, shared plenty of Texas-based basketball connections with Weaver and the pair built a close relationship over Weaver’s three seasons in Philadelphia. He started off as a video coordinator, then was Brown’s special assistant for two seasons as the Sixers embarked on Hinkie’s rebuilding program.
“An incredible opportunity to be with a program at the beginning of its journey,” said Weaver. “It really felt like a start-up in some ways. All hands on deck. Working draft stuff to all hours. Then getting the chance to be part of a development program where it felt like college sometimes with the age of our players and how focused everyone was on knowing how far we had to go. But it served me well in giving me a unique outlook into what NBA basketball was like, certainly atypical for most NBA coaches especially in their first spot.”
Weaver has held the same title in Brooklyn the last two years as special assistant to Atkinson.
“Similar to Philadelphia, Brooklyn was in sort of a building phase, and my awareness of both Sean (Marks) and Kenny (Atkinson) through my relationships with both Sam and Brett who had worked with both those guys in the past, made it clear to me just how special this might be,” said Weaver. “They identified me as maybe having some experience in this space of a development program that it felt like there was a match. It was also a chance for my wife to continue chasing her career goals. She just finished an epilepsy fellowship at Columbia. It seemed right in a bunch of ways.
“The work that I did initially and still do to some extent is trying to connect all the different departments, work with the analytics team, work with the performance team, the scouts, trying to just collaborate — which is Sean Marks’ favorite word — and help us communicate better. And then also from a day-to-day standpoint, traveling with the team and being on the bench, I try to help Kenny make good decisions and help evaluate the way we go about managing in-game situations, which is a real passion of mine.”
Having worked for Hinkie and then being hired by Marks in the reconstruction of Brooklyn’s front office and coaching staff, Weaver has regularly been connected with the NBA’s analytics movement. It’s a part of the modern coaching world that he believes in, but isn’t limited to.
“My basketball coaching life has bumped up against that enough times to where I’ve gained a familiarity and appreciation for how to coach in a modern way and use quantitative tools, but anyone who saw me in any math class in my life would quickly realize that I do not have the background as a quant,” said Weaver, whose degrees from Texas are in philosophy and kinesiology. “All the experience I’ve gained working with really bright people that use those tools well has given me I think a unique perspective, but I’m a basketball coach and to the degree that I can find stuff that helps and be in programs that really are sophisticated like the Brooklyn Nets are from the way that the GM Sean Marks and the head coach Kenny Atkinson use on a daily basis to try to help them get a little clearer view about how to make decisions, I feel really lucky to be coaching in the time that I’m coaching and having had the benefit of that information and those tools.”
Weaver’s other formative coaching experience has come with Australia’s national team. That connection came through Brown, who had coached professionally in Australia for a decade and then been the national team’s head coach for three years, including during the 2012 Olympics. When Weaver expressed an interest in an international coaching experience, Brown put him together with Andrej Lemanis, who had succeeded him in Australia, and Weaver joined the team’s staff for the 2014 World Cup.
He’s been with the Boomers ever since, including coaching in the 2016 Olympics, and is looking forward to upcoming World Cup qualifying and getting Australia back to the Olympics for the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Last week, Weaver was in Las Vegas on the bench as part of Brooklyn’s NBA Summer League staff. The Brooklyn roster included several players from last season’s Long Island roster whom Weaver was familiar working with, but also may have featured players he’ll be coaching in the upcoming season.
“You start a relationship, and within a basketball practice or a basketball game, this is the kind of rhythm that you’re going to have during the year, but thankfully the pressure of the regular season is not the same as it is in Summer League,” said Weaver. “So it’s a little bit more casual and a chance to have a more relaxed pace with some of the teaching and some of the work that we do both with film and individual skill instruction and then obviously within a team environment.
“The chance to be around our players from their first steps as a professional is incredibly valuable and as you might imagine with the rest of our program, we invest heavily in our support, staff, our performance team, all our coaches, everyone really taking an active role during this time of year to help everybody start off on the right foot.”
Marks and Atkinson consider the Long Island coaches to be part of the Brooklyn Nets coaching staff. Communication is considered key, particularly in the case of players who move between the two teams during the season. Having worked with Brooklyn’s two-way players last season, Weaver understands the importance of the G League to Brooklyn’s development program.
“I think the growth has just been incredible and reflects the investment that the league and teams have made,” said Weaver. “If you walked into one of our practices I think you would think it looks like an NBA practice and I hope a really good NBA practice. The number of players that are identifying the G League as a place where they could improve, first of all, but also have access to the kinds of training, both on and off court, that can help them get where they want to go, feels second to none to me.
“Certainly within the Brooklyn environment we look at it as an incredibly important part of what we’re doing moving forward and a chance to expand our universe of players two-fold on a yearly basis and sometimes more with the number of guys you have access to that you can bring in to your roster during the season. For me to sit at the middle of that intersection and try to help make it as professional and useful to Brooklyn moving forward as we possibly we can, it’s something I’m really excited about.”