Nick Friedman, Assistant Coach, Charlotte Hornets | Hoop Story #069

Nick Friedman, Assistant Coach, Charlotte Hornets | Hoop Story #069

Nick Friedman, who is he? Where is he from? How has it shaped his basketball journey?

I’m originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts which is a pretty storied basketball town on the low. People forget it’s the home of Patrick Ewing, Rumeal Robinson, Mike Jarvis. We have a pretty solid history of hoop and the town started my love for the game. My mom and dad are psychiatrists. I kind of just fell in love with the game going to the park by myself shooting for hours. I turned myself into a Division III athlete. Even though I didn’t go D1, I really just wanted to play the game I loved everyday. I got hurt in college and had some shin problems which ended my short lived NESCAC college basketball career. I ended up taking a year off of college to figure out what I would do with my life. I worked with a startup company called “Coach Up.” Within that year I started training some kids and coaching for an AAU program. I came up with The Greater Boston Lions in high school, which was run by my mentor and current Bunker Hill Community College Head Coach, Nakruma Jones. In that time I was coaching some U15 and U16 teams and working out myself to stay in enough shape to hoop with the young fellas. I would bring high school kids to come workout with me—explaining drills while you’re working out yourself is a true test of your ability as a teacher. That’s where I developed my true love for coaching.

In 2013, transferred to University of Miami (FL) and became an undergraduate manager to start my trajectory as a coach.. I’ll never forget, I rolled over to the field house for a workout with my guy Aaron Winshall  who was a graduate assistant and Massachusetts kid as well. He wanted me to help with a workout with James Kelly and DeAndre Burnett. It was that moment when I realized that this is exactly what I wanted to do. From there, I started to develop on court trust with guys like Davon Reed, Angel Rodriguez, Bruce Brown. That’s where my passion for player development and helping guys achieve the best versions of themselves grew. As an undergraduate assistant I was doing the laundry, the dirty work and remedial behind the scenes things that, in the long run, help you have longevity in the business. I developed the mindset to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

I became addicted to fulfilling my aspirations of coaching in the league one day. I was really ambitious and started coaching an AAU team in Hollywood called the Florida Flash. We had 8 Division I prospects, one of which was a young John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks. During my senior year, I stopped working for the canes and got on with the Miami Heat as an Analytics Intern with their SportsVu (now Second Spectrum) department. I was working game nights and building relationships in the pros all while working guys out at the U. I got the opportunity to work some NBA pros because Miami is the destination of a lot of off season training. I had the opportunity to run monthly regimens for guys like Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush and Earl Clark,  helping these guys at the later stages of their career. This is where my I began to really find my confidence as a coach— that first time realizing a pro trust your knowledge of the game is an empowering feeling.

In the summer of 2014, I was introduced to Cody Toppert, an innovator in the world of NBA pre-drafts. I would travel everyday from Miami to DelRay Beach to help him train Terry Rozier, Christian Wood and others in preparation for the draft.. After that summer, I returned to the U of Miami as a graduate assistant. We went on to make the Sweet 16 in 2015-16. An opportunity to get into the D League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers came along, and that’s where my career in pro hoops began. That’s how I built the foundation that led to where I am now.

As an assistant coach what do your duties look like on and off the court? How do you deal with high pressure situations?

The number one way to deal with the pressures of working in the NBA is to remind yourself of how fortunate you are to be living a legitimate dream— this is the stage you’ve aspired to be on since you started shooting around in the park after dark.. You take a step back and live in gratitude. Then the pressure becomes a joy and an honor. We all say it and it's cliche but basketball is a blessing. Being able to do this everyday is what centers and grounds me. This is a cutthroat business that can rip your heart out. If the wins aren’t adding up, regardless of your passion and love for the game, you may be out of job quickly. To deal with the pressures of it all, you just have to trust the process remaining genuine and attached to what you love. Through my experience in life and in the league,, I’ve realized that there’s nothing more powerful than staying true to what got you here. If you lose that joy, that gratitude, the game at this level will eat you alive. Center yourself in gratitude and go from there.

In terms of what I do on a daily basis in the NBA, my work starts with getting guys better, pouring everything you know and love about the game to help a guy’s dream and goals come true. I operate with the mindset that “I’m here to help you improve, first and foremost. Forget the wins, they will come. If my mentality isn’t true to getting you better and helping you thrive it’s hard to maximize results.” That’s why there's such a symbiotic relationship between player development and winning games. My responsibilities start with being assigned to certain players and developing plans for those guys. For example, “Terry (Rozier), how are we going to help you become the cornerstone of a franchise? What steps do we need to take to help you progress from a starter in the league to a guy who can be trusted with the opportunity to build a basketball culture?.” It’s above the analytics and the stats, it's about the mentality of running a team.

From a development standpoint it’s about breaking down the detailed steps of how you mentally make that next jump within your role. Jalen McDaniels: you were the 9th - 10th man in the rotation a year ago. How do we get you to be a key 6th or 7th man not just for us, but for every team in the league? It’s helping these guys understand not only what they must do from a skill perspective to make a leap, but also what they must do psychologically to handle whatever adversity comes their way throughout the course of their plan. We strategize together about what their template in the league must look like in order to evolve. And it’s my job to hold them accountable to that template every day.

Throughout my G League and NBA career as an assistant coach, I’ve also had the opportunity to run/be heavily involved in running an offense. Putting together offensive philosophies and systems is a huge passion of mine on the X’s and O’s side of coaching. 

How have you learned from mistakes on the job?

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can't get ahead of yourself. “Patience is a virtue.” It may sound corny, but it’s real. For us young coaches, many of us fall victim to the what's next mentality. I think I’ve done a solid job of developing an appreciation for present moment awareness and embracing where I’m at. There are, however, no doubt times when I get ahead of myself. It’s like, “Are you ready to be a head coach at some level? Absolutely. But do you have to pay your dues? Absolutely.” I think for me whenever I’ve gotten ahead of myself I lose my ability to be truly effective in that moment. I tell myself, “Nick you’re 32 years old and an assistant in the league. Don’t stress man. Life is good. Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal but life is good.” My dad is 84 years old and when hanging out with him I got a sense of the fact that I need to not take time for granted. He told me, “You have to master 3 things in life. Your doubt, frustration and your ability to respond to both when setbacks hit.” Embracing those ideologies will help you stay the course and maintain a marathon mentality.

The coolest thing about this process is getting to learn the art of mental toughness from your players. One of my biggest inspirations has been Isaiah Thomas. IT is essentially the same age as I am. For years, I studied his perspectives  on and off the court from afar. Then, Boom, we now work together in the league and we talk about the journey.. He’s been through setbacks that would kill the average human being's sense of confidence forever. Being on the court at the same time and knowing the adversity he’s gone through reminds me I have no excuse but to keep going. To keep pushing. It’s hard but you know that that passion and love for the sport will always shine through. Remain genuine and true to the game and good things will naturally happen.

In the NBA everyone is well paid, skilled and has some sort of bragging right. How do you deal with ego and/or players you don’t mesh well with?

I’ve had mentors my whole life that have taken the approach that sometimes no matter how much love they pour into me I still have to figure things out myself. In life the best teacher is your own experience. There are times where no matter how much love and genuine energy you pour into someone, a player may still not trust you. The biggest thing I do to attack situations like this is to never take that resistance personally. I have to remain true to what I love and do, which is being the most genuine coach and supporter of that player's dreams that I can be. Regardless of that wall being built up I keep working. But in order for this partnership to work, you have to be firm in letting those you work with know that respect must be mutual. And if there can’t be a common understanding of respect, a player may need to fail before he truly accepts what he must do to be successful.

For me, the priority is to help guys stay away from the thing that kills careers most: wasting time. Because of our egos, a lot of us expend unnecessary energy fighting what works. We don’t want to “accept” the truth behind what must be adjusted in order to develop at the highest level  because it’s uncomfortable. The biggest misconception in the player-coach relationship is that Correction is criticism. It’s not. Is the truth hard? Yes. Is telling the truth the ultimate form of love and growth? Absolutely.. At the NBA level, if that wall of trust isn’t broken immediately we’re just wasting time. When you resist a plan that is genuinely based in serving your best interest, you waste opportunity. 

What are some positive memories and experiences you cherish from your coaching career?

From a coaching point of view my most memorable time was with The Houston Rockets G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. That was my first stage close to the NBA. Being with that group on a daily basis was nothing but fun. Working with Joseph Blair, Matt Brase, Cody Toppert, Travis Stockbridge. That’s where I learned that staff chemistry is everything in this league. That’s where I learned the power of living in the present moment throughout this basketball journey. When you’re enjoying yourself everyday, improvement becomes natural. We ended up losing in the G League finals that year to two future NBA Champions and All-Stars in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. What a season. Shoutout to Isaiah Taylor, Gary Payton, Kyle Wiltjer and the whole Vipers squad!

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