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By Tony Casella | Summer @ the NBA

Forward by Janx

I have asked Tony Casella to write a blog on an amazing experience he had this month with the NBA Summer League. This is a great time to network, learn from the best and watch some great NBA prospects up close. I was certainly keen to hear and learn from Tony's experience as I hope everyone else is.

But first some background on the man.....

Tony Casella was an Assistant Coach on our local National Pro team, the Adelaide 36ers (2011-2013), Head Coach for the SA Metro U20 Men (2009-2012), winning 2 silver medals and 1 bronze and at club level coached a team to the U18 Men’s Grand Final at the Melbourne Classics (2008) which is a rare feat for a South Australian team. With this level of experience and success he would probably be one of the brightest young coaches in Australia in my opinion.

Over the past 2 years Tony has been a Player Development Coach working with elite talent wanting to play professional basketball. As someone that has coached so many young men in juniors going on to higher levels he has a phenomenal understanding of the fundamentals, teaching and evaluation skills. His work ethic and passion for the game is first class.

He has recently come back from the NBA Summer League where he took part in many meetings and conversations with coaches, office staff, agents and many other people involved in THE LEAGUE. In my conversations with him, he has comeback with even more knowledge than ever before and is focused on taking individual player development to the next level in Australia. I’m excited to see his career in this area continue to flourish and hope to be able to offer him insights of kids around the region too.

Over to TC (questions by Janx)......

Tell us why you went to Summer League?

The talent of NBA players and coaching strategy has always excited me. My goal is to be involved in the league as a Coach so attending Summer League allowed me to network and learn from the best minds in the game.

Liam Flynn is a good friend of mine who is a great coach, with international experience, ran his first NBA Summer League Networking and Education Tour in July. The tour group contested of myself (Coach), Tristan Chai (Physio – Good Physio), Olaf Borutz (Agent – The W Group) and Michael Kosch (Front Office – Mt Gambier Pioneers). The purpose of this trip was to establish relationships with people who work in the NBA, learn about their journey and current role.

The venue for the NBA Summer League was the Thomas & Mack Center located on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas where 23 NBA teams and a D-League select team participated. The games were played on the Main Court and Cox Pavilion which is a smaller court located in the arena. This is the perfect location for one of the biggest basketball networking events in the world.

Entrance to Thomas & Mack Center

How did you prepare for the tour?

In preparation for the tour I taped some of my workouts and created a YouTube page called Tony Casella Basketball Workouts to show my work to NBA people that we met. I also created a 1 page resume which outlined my experience and created business cards with my contact details.

Who did you meet with?

Liam did an exceptional job setting up meetings with the following NBA people: Billy Lange (76ers Assistant Coach and Director of Player Development), Kevin Young (Delaware 87ers – D-League Head Coach), Gianluca Pascucci (Houston – Vice President of Player Personnel), Phil Handy (Cleveland - Assistant Coach & Summer League Head Coach), Dave Lewin (Boston - Director of Scouting), George David (Agent - Wasserman Media Group), Sachin Gupta (76ers – VP of Basketball Ops & Creator of the ESPN Trade Machine), Matt Brase (GRV Vipers – D-League Head Coach), Justin Hayes (Agent - Worldwide Sports Management), Chris Fleming (Brooklyn – Assistant Coach & German National Team Head Coach), Steve Short (Denver – Physio), Dan Meehan (Brooklyn – Head of Strength & Conditioning) and Troy Flanagan (Milwaukee - Director of Performance).

In addition to the formal meetings I also met Tom Crean (Indiana Hoosiers – Head Coach), Ryan Pannone (Hebeisen White Wings – Assistant Coach Pro A Germany), David B Thorpe (Executive Director of the Pro Training Center & ESPN Writer), Danny Mills (76ers - International Scout), Simon Cote (Hebeisen White Wings – Head Coach Pro A Germany), John Beckett (Denver - Player Development Coach), David Nurse (Perfect Shots Basketball), Larry Kestelman (NBL Executive Director), Joey Wright (Adelaide 36ers – Head Coach), Aaron Fearne (Cairns Taipans – Head Coach), Dean Vickerman (Sydney Kings – Assistant Coach) and Jaime O’Loughlin (Perth Wildcats – Assistant Coach).

Myself and Indiana Hoosiers Head Coach Tom Crean at Cox Pavilion

Did you get a chance to coach?

I was able to coach at two free agent Combines. The first was organised by Daniel Moldovan (Entersport Management) and the second by Chris Warren (Warren Sports International) for players looking to get jobs as imports overseas. We ran player development drills and I coached a team in a round robin format to showcase the talent to the scouts who were in attendance. This was an amazing experience and coaching in this fast paced environment tested my ability to make quick decisions.

Player development drills for smalls and wings at the Daniel Moldovan free agent Combine

Did you attend other events at Summer League?

I attended the International Coaches clinic which was conducted at the UNLV training courts. Brian Goorjian (6 x NBL Champion & 6 time NBL Coach of the year) demonstrated the different options in early and secondary transition. This included looking for the big sealing on the rim followed by a ball reversal into high pick & roll. Del Harris (Former longtime NBA Coach) spoke about his experience coaching internationally in Puerto Rico and the Chinese National team. Vinnie Del Negro (Former Bulls and Clippers Head Coach) spoke about his coaching philosophies including role definition and creating a high performance culture.

I also watched a number of games at the Worldwide Invitational Tournament which was an event organized by Justin Hayes (Agent - Worldwide Sports Management) for free agents looking for jobs as imports overseas. The standard was high and coaching was excellent. Joey Wright (Adelaide 36ers – Head Coach), Aaron Fearne (Cairns Taipans – Head Coach) and Dean Vickerman (Sydney Kings – Assistant Coach) were all coaching a team.

Which players at Summer League impressed you?

Ben Simmons has amazing court awareness. It was great to see him running the point and he makes his team mates better with his outstanding passing ability. Devin Booker is the complete package and is always under control. His ability to make the 3 and get to the basket makes him very hard to guard. Brandon Ingram uses his length well on the defensive end and his driving game is solid. Tyus Jones is exceptional playing off pick & roll. He reads the defence and changes pace which makes him very difficult to guard. Kris Dunn has amazing work rate and plays extremely hard at both ends.

What did you learn from your time at Summer League?

I learnt that you have to master your craft so that you are an asset to an NBA organization. Networking with people in the industry is critical as people need to know and trust you before they will consider you for a role. Staying in touch with your contacts on a regular basis is important to maintain your relationships. Providing something of value to an organization such as information on emerging elite talent in your region demonstrates that you’re willing to give something without expecting anything in return.

Another important thing that I learnt was to take any opportunity that will help get your foot in the NBA door even if it means making a financial sacrifice as this is an investment in your future.

I learnt that teams in the NBA that have continual success have a high performance culture that is not compromised. The foundation of this is based on everyone in the organization embracing their roles for the best interests of the team. Progress is measured and people are held accountable for their performance.

I also learnt that players in the USA have a toughness that allows them to score through contact and are streaky scorers once they get a hot hand. I saw urgency on every possession during Summer League games and free agent Combines.

How will you apply what you learned?

I’ll implement new methods into my player workouts to improve shooting, finishing in the paint and scoring off pick & roll situations. I will also discuss with players about the importance of playing 1 on 1, 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 against bigger stronger bodies so they learn how to play through contact and find different ways to score.

I’ll maintain my relationships via email and Skype with the people that I met at Summer League and provide them with updates on emerging talent in Australia that have NBA potential.

What are your next steps?

I will continue doing player workouts with elite talent and help them reach their goals. I plan to prepare for my next head coaching role by staying up to date with the latest offensive and defensive trends. I will also continue looking for opportunities in the NBA and D-League.

Summer League was an amazing experience and one I’ll remember forever. I want to thank Liam Flynn for making the tour everything I wanted and more. The people who we met were outstanding and I am so grateful for their time and career advice. I’m still on a high from the trip and recommend Summer League for anyone looking to network and learn from people in the NBA. If anyone wants to know more about my trip and just want to talk hoops then feel free to contact me anytime.

Our tour group (Olaf, Michael, Tristian, Liam and myself) with Phil Handy (Cavs Assistant Coach and 2016 NBA Champion)

Tony Casella | Player Development Coach

Mobile: +61 407 391 398


Skype: tcasella2

Twitter: Coach Casella

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