For someone so new to his position, Taylor Jenkins understands his job exceedingly well.
The Austin Toros’ first-year head coach knows that, like most coaches, his role is to instruct his players, to teach and mold them into better basketball players and better people.
Jenkins also understands that, unlike most coaches, that isn’t where his job begins.
“We’re building our team from scratch every year,” Jenkins said.
He says this with a calm that belies the fact that Toros training camp opens in two weeks, and his roster currently exists in a state somewhere between “conceptually amorphous” and “nonexistent.”
For Jenkins, however, this is the rule and not the exception. Jenkins served as a Toros assistant coach for four years before being promoted to head coach this September. Uncertainty isn’t just a faint motif in the D-League; it’s practically all you can count on. Player movement and front-office turnover occur at an exponentially higher rate than in the NBA or other professional leagues.
Again, Jenkins takes it in stride.
“You can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow. You can’t control what’s going to happen throughout the season, but you can control what you do,” Jenkins said.
For Jenkins, that means following the example set by the Toros’ parent organization, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are one of the few NBA teams to own their own D-League affiliate.
According to Jenkins, the trickle-down culture is obvious.
“[The Toros and the Spurs] are on the same page. When you first walk through the door in San Antonio, you see the values there firsthand. It’s not a cookie-cutter system. It’s a standard that every day we live up to,” Jenkins said.
That standard has equaled success. Since the Spurs bought the Toros in 2007, there have been 27 call-ups from Austin to the NBA, including current Spurs Danny Green and Cory Joseph, a former Longhorn. Last year the Toros won their first D-League Championship. Jenkins has been a part of all of it.
“Our numbers don’t lie. Our relationships with our players are the best in the league,” Jenkins said. “We’re about setting up our players for success. That’s the mission that was set in place in ’07-’08, and it hasn’t changed.”
Jenkins’ next task in carrying out “the mission”: the D-League draft on Nov. 2. The draft is an opportunity for each of the league’s 16 teams to select eight players out of a pool of approximately 200 prospects who have signed one-year contracts with the D-League. Players such as Utah’s Jamaal Tinsley (last year’s first overall selection), former Longhorn Gary Johnson and Cleveland starting small forward Alonzo Gee have all come up through the D-League draft.
Although his first draft as head coach represents Jenkins’ best opportunity to build the team he wants, he doesn’t plan to stray too far from the formula he learned as an assistant.
“My vision is number one for the team to be successful, but in many ways we want to do what we can to help the Spurs,” Jenkins said. “With this being my first draft, I don’t want to drastically change anything.”
Given the success the Spurs-owned Toros have had so far, he shouldn’t have to.