Nate Reinking is in his second year as head coach of the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate. He starred at Kent State University before embarking on a professional career overseas. A native of Galion, Ohio, Reinking gave us an exclusive interview and touched on his coaching mentors, laid back style and Kendrick Perkins’ professionalism.
Q: What did you learn last year as a first-time head coach and have you made any adjustments this year as a result?
A: I learned a million things last year. It’s tough to pinpoint just a few. It was definitely a big jump from assistant coach to the head coaching chair. This year, I think it will be easier because my entire staff is back – I lean on Melvin (Ely), Sam (Jones) and Tyler (Neal). All of them are back this year, which is huge for me.
Q: In news items I’ve read, you are described as laid back and a players’ coach. How would you describe your coaching style?
A: Yeah, that’s me. I’m laid back. I played a lot of years, so I’ve learned styles of coaching that fit me as a player. I just want to be myself. If that’s what people call laid back, then fine with me. I want my players to enjoy playing. Guys have to love playing for me or I’ll lose them. But I’m competitive. I want to challenge my guys, but being Bobby Knight at this level won’t work – I’m trying to develop good professional players.
Q: You played collegiately at Kent State and professionally overseas – are there any particular players or coaches that have had the greatest influence on your coaching style?
A: Growing up, my dad was a high school football and basketball coach, so I was always at practices as a kid, always the ball boy. The coach I had overseas with the longest tenure was Chris Finch. He’s now an assistant coach with the Pelicans. Steve Hetzel and Jordi Fernandez helped teach me the NBA game, and both of them went on to find assistant coaching jobs in the NBA. And the Cavs organization is great, they have helped me try to soak up the NBA game.
Q: Hetzel and Fernandez both precede you as the Charge head coach. What did they teach you?
A: Lots of little things, really. The Charge is my first coaching experience. Steve and Jordi both took me under their wings, and I have used their blueprints. I put their styles in a blender and then put my own stamp on it.
Q: As an assistant coach, you could focus on one facet of the team. As head coach, have you had trouble relinquishing some control over to your assistants?
A: That has not been a challenge at all. I let my assistants take ownership. When I coached for Steve (Hetzel) and Jordi (Fernandez), they didn’t force me to focus on one area of the team. I was a coach. Melvin Ely played in the NBA. Sam Jones played and was a head coach overseas. I have complete confidence in those guys. I’d rather have smart people around me.
Q: G League players all presumably want to make it to the NBA. As a head coach, do you view your role as developing individual talent or building a great team?
A: I haven’t figured that out yet! The Charge have made the playoffs every year since 2011, so there is an extremely high expectation here. We are affiliated with the best organization in sports, in my opinion. So winning is important. But I’m also trying to develop talent within a winning culture. So I guess the answer is both.
Q: With a roster full of guys who hope to make it to the NBA, how do you manage egos and individual goals?
A: That’s a challenge. Most G League guys are here with an understandably selfish underlying reason – they want to play in the NBA. So yeah, it’s a challenge, I won’t deny that. We try to get our guys to believe in playing the right way, and that playing the right way will help you down the road. Most G League guys who make it to the NBA might be role players, not stars. So focusing on that is how we try to help our guys grow.
Q: Kendrick Perkins is on your roster. Is he still an NBA-capable talent or a coach-in-waiting?
A: I think Perkins has NBA skills left in the tank. He wants to get back there as a player. It’s been an unbelievable pleasure to have him because of his leadership and experience. He is a coach on the floor and has championship pedigree. Seeing how he works is great for the other guys.
Q: What does your coaching future look like?
A: I don’t think about that. I’m in a dream job right now. It’s better than I ever imagined for myself. I’m from this area. I grew up a Cavs fan and was raised in Galion. I’m blessed beyond my expectations. I just do my best and wherever it leads, it leads. I’d sign a 10-year deal right now if they offered it. I’m just really happy here.
Q: OK, that’s fair. But does the NBA even cross your mind?
A: I think there are great people at every level of basketball. I know great people in the NBA, like Chris (Finch), Steve (Hetzel) and Jordi (Fernandez). If I end up there, fantastic. I can’t lie, an NBA championship is on my bucket list. That’s just a tough question. But I’m content where I’m at.
Jeff Kasler is lead feature writer at Amico Hoops. Follow him on Twitter: @ThirdWave17.