His name was Lionel Hollins.
And while he never played for my Dad, I've watched his career for nearly 40 years -- from his time at Arizona State to his NBA playing days to coaching stops in Phoenix, Vancouver, SLC, and the minor leagues.
As this article describes, until he was hired last week as head coach of the Griz, he'd questioned whether "it was time to move on, to find something else to do with his life. He wondered whether all the doors had closed, whether his best opportunities had vanished."
"There are times when you say, 'Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?'" Hollins said last weekend. "I talk to my family all the time and my friends about, 'Is this my destiny, or is it something else?' Because everybody wants to have a purpose in life. And there have been times when I thought it was something different."
When he took the MEM job, Coach Hollins made it clear that "the process would require patience and perseverance, that this would not be an overnight fixer-upper. And patience and perseverance are what he does best, qualities he adopted as a player and honed as a coach."
Coach Hollins has an interesting life story. Despite starring at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, "he never intended to pursue a basketball career. He was going to finish high school and find a job."
He ended up at Dixie JC in Utah where, in the conference championship, and with four fouls, the coach moved the 6-foot-3 Hollins to the post.
"Hollins played foul-free basketball the rest of the way, grabbed 16 rebounds and led Dixie to the victory."
After junior college, he moved to Arizona State, then onto the Trailblazers where he won an NBA title in 1977 with coach Jack Ramsay, whom Hollins called "the greatest coach ever."
With that championship team, Ramsay created a sense of teamwork that bordered on brotherhood. And there were four basic principles that Hollins strove to emulate as he began his own coaching career: Be tough. Be demanding. Be fair. Be flexible.
According to Coach Ramsay, who now works as ESPN Radio analyst, some NBA assistants simply "go through the motions, satisfied to be sitting on an NBA bench. Others are always working and encouraging, always hands-on and vocal." Coach Hollins was in the second group.
Said a friend of Coach Hollins:
"Everybody was born with a gift. Some of us, we take that gift and nurture it. Others, we let it fall by the wayside. He's nurtured that gift."