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As far as retirement stories go, they don’t come much better than this one.
Brandon Roy never cashed in on his professional NBA potential due to a series of crippling knee woes, setbacks that forced him to walk away from the league in 2013 after a comeback attempt with the Minnesota Timberwolves fell short. Just 32, the former Portland stud shooting guard has reemerged in his new life as a Seattle high school basketball coach with aplomb.
Taking over a club at Nathan Hale High School that featured a 3-18 record in 2015-16, Roy made waves in February by leading the school to a perfect 29-0 mark and state championship in his first year, with most of the triumphs taking their lead from the work of coach Roy and the three-time All-Star, and highly-recruited, 6-9 forward Michael Porter Jr.
On Monday, both were recognized for their standout achievements, as the Atlanta Tipoff Club named the pair its 2017 Naismith National High School Player and Coach of the Year:
Michael was the leader of a talented team which worked hard and never lost sight of their end goal – a perfect season and winning a state title,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “Coach Roy was the steady guidance who motivated this team to improve every single game and ultimately they both were rewarded by winning Naismith awards.”
This marks the third time a coach and player from the same team have earned the top individual honor. Jared Sullinger and father Satch won the hardware together in 2010 for their work with Northland High School in Columbus, while Lonzo Ball and high school coach Steve Baik (Chino Hills High School, Chino, Calif.) took the trophies in 2016.
Porter Jr. averaged nearly 35 points and 14 rebounds for Roy and the Raiders, and he’ll thank his famed first-year coach by attending Washington – where Roy starred from 2002 until 2006 – in 2017-18. Roy, a native of the area who did not go to Nathan Hale (he attended Garfield), is making a relative pittance for his role in the major turnaround.
The job pays $6,000, but money wasn’t the motivator for a guy who earned $82.9 million as an NBA player. This was his low-pressure entry into coaching, but it quickly became more than that. Within months of his hiring, seven players transferred to Hale, headlined by the nation’s top-ranked player, Michael Porter Jr., and younger brothers Jontay and Corban, whose father accepted an assistant coaching job at Roy’s alma mater, University of Washington, where Michael and Jontay are committed.
Players make the difference, and Michael Porter is a top-ranked player, but shooting from a .142 winning percentage to a perfect mark and state title in the course of a single year is an astounding achievement for any lead coach, let alone a first-year coach with no prior experience on the sideline at any level.
The victim of a series of deadening knee surgeries, Roy hit his peak in 2009 while averaging 22.6 points per game at age 24 for a Portland club that would lose in six games to Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets during the first round of the loaded Western playoffs. It was the first postseason run of Roy’s career, a professional turn that wouldn’t see him get out of the first round in three tries, with three knee surgeries (two on the right knee following a meniscus tear, one on the left) stalling his approach.
Cited for knee issues upon his 2006 introduction to the league, he was the second would-be Blazers franchise player from consecutive drafts (Greg Oden, 2007) to be forced into early retirement, the latest in a series of similarly-styled setbacks (Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, Sam Bowie) to befall the franchise.
Portland, currently out of the Western Conference playoff bracket, deals with its own issues these days. The club remains a phenomenal watch, though, and though the club’s fan base is no doubt stricken with crestfallen memories at the thought of what could have been, watching Brandon Roy’s emergence as a winning and now award-winning basketball coach has to make up for a bit of what was lost.
All players should have second acts – or, at least, the introduction to a second act – this successful. It’s good to see Brandon Roy enjoying basketball success at 32, even if it isn’t in the arena any of us imagined he and his team would be dominating at that age.
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