Since retiring prematurely from the NBA after three All-Star appearances in six injury-plagued seasons, former Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy couldn’t stand to be around basketball.
“It wasn’t just the Blazers,” the 32-year-old told the Portland Tribune this past December. “I didn’t go to any NBA games. You just miss it. It’s like you see your girlfriend, and she’s walking around with this new guy. It wasn’t anything anybody had done to me. I just felt it was hard to be around the game.”
That all changed this winter, when Roy interviewed for and accepted the head coaching job at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School, taking over a program that finished just 3-18 last season and had cycled through five coaches in five years, if only because the commute to work wasn’t too bad.
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.
The influx of talent, including four more local prep stars, led to questions about whether or not Roy orchestrated the entire process, but he insisted he never spoke with any of them before their transfers, and they all maintain they just wanted the chance to learn the game from a local legend.
“We weren’t considering Nathan Hale at all when we first moved to Seattle,” Porter told the Seattle Times. “Then we heard (Brandon) might be coaching at the school and thought, ‘Wow, that would be a unique experience.’ We can go into this together and try to make something great happen.”
And learn, they did.
Playing hard-nosed defense and up-tempo offense, Hale has started 22-0, and it’s no cupcake schedule. The Raiders play in Seattle’s Metro League, one of the country’s most consistently tough conferences, producing Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry and Nate Robinson, among other notable names, and finishing with the top three teams in Washington’s Class 3A state tournament last season.
In December, Hale swept through the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, knocking off the country’s top-ranked team, California’s Sierra Canyon School, in the final. A couple weeks later, they edged defending national champion Oak Hill Academy at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
“What you guys are doing is really special,” Roy told his players in an emotional speech after the Oak Hill victory, “especially for me, because I haven’t even been around basketball in a long time. When you can’t play basketball anymore physically, it’s a treat to be around such good guys.
“We’ve done something incredible. We have a chance to do something that we’ll always look back and say, ‘We were a part of that one season.’ Seattle’s been trying to find that moment again since the ’70s and ’80s, and I was part of teams that couldn’t. You guys are doing it. When the buzzer’s going off, you guys have won, and I’m like, ‘Damn, we won this game.’ I mean, I feel like I’m a player.”
This is what Roy missed when he walked away from the game, and he’s only getting started. Hale just won the school’s first Metro League title since 1992, defeating Roy’s old high school, Garfield, in the title game. Later this month, the Raiders aim to secure Hale’s first state tournament berth in 23 years.
It all makes you wonder if Roy has a future in this coaching thing at the college level and beyond.
“I’m doing it for the experience, and to be involved in something I enjoy,” he told the Portland Tribune. “I feel like I’m prepared to make an impact and then build my way up. I thought high school was the best level to work on myself and better myself to become a good coach.
“I don’t know where it’s going to lead, but right now I’m happy. My kids are settled. I don’t have to worry about moving them. If I go to the next level, the job is a little more demanding. I’m happy where I’m at right now. It’s been a blast.”