Jamelle McMillan doesn’t look much older than the guys he’s coaching.
In some cases, he isn’t.
Pelicans summer league players Keith Benson and Jordan Crawford were both born a couple months before the 28-year-old McMillan.
But don’t let McMillan’s age fool you.
Just one week in, the Pelicans’ summer league coach has come across as a seasoned veteran, handling duties on the court and fielding media questions with the poise you’d expect from a guy who’s been around basketball his entire life.
McMillan, son of former NBA player and current Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan, makes his head coaching debut on Friday in Las Vegas when the Pelicans begin summer league play.
“Unbelievable,” he describes it. “I’ve been here six years. This city (New Orleans) has been unbelievable to me. This organization has been unbelievable to me. I have the opportunity to lead these guys in the summer league situation where they are trying to establish themselves and create a path for themselves, so it’s pretty cool.”
He’s created a path for himself, as well.
After playing four seasons at Arizona State, he served one year as director of basketball operations at Drake University. Meanwhile, his father served as an assistant on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and Jamelle hung around practice, doing whatever he could to help out like the gym rat he’s always been.
Two weeks after returning home from the London Olympics, Jamelle got a call from Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.
Monty Williams, who was coaching the Pelicans at the time, was close friends with Nate McMillan from their coaching days in Portland.
“They asked if I wanted to be an assistant and said they would throw me in the fire and see what happens,” Jamelle McMillan said. “I came here and he turned me loose, and here I am.”
If he hadn’t got the call, he likely would have been working for Microsoft.
He had a job lined up with the company.
But instead, he chose the game he’s always loved.
He started as a coaching intern for the Pelicans on Williams’ staff, then was elevated to player development coach before moving up as an assistant coach last season. Now he gets to lead the summer league team. He admits he was shocked when Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry gave him the keys to the summer league team.
“I think I have analyzed the game more in the last three weeks than I have in the last six years combined on both ends of the floor,” McMillan said.
He didn’t sleep for 48 hours when practice started Monday.
“When those creative juices get going, it’s hard to turn off,” he said.
It’s that mindset that has made his dad proud.
“My approach to everything, regardless of what position you’re in, is you work your behind off to get opportunities, and he has done that,” Nate McMillan said. “He keeps impressing people with his work ethic and knowledge and been blessed with opportunities.”
He hasn’t let his youth work against him.
In fact, he says it helps.
“I think that makes it a little easier,” Jamelle McMillan said. “They can talk to me in a different way than an older guy. I’ve told them I am not above you. We are in this thing together.”
Point guard Quinn Cook is five years younger than his summer league coach. The two sent text messages back and forth during the NBA playoffs, analyzing the game.
“I try to pick his brain,” Cook said. “He has a high IQ for the game. … I know what he wants and he knows what type of a player I am, and I have to be the coach on the floor and an extension of him, so we have a great chemistry.”
McMillan hopes that chemistry translates into wins.
Yeah, it’s just summer league and most people will focus more on player development than the scoreboard, but McMillan would like to have a good showing as well.
“Anytime you step into anything with this NBA logo on it and you’re in charge of making the decisions, making the calls, it’s a huge step in your process,” he said. “It’s a development in your career, especially in a place like Vegas. A lot of eyes, a lot people from around the league are there.”
His dad is hoping to be one of those people. Nate McMillan, of course, is busy with free agency in Indiana, but he hopes to catch a game. If not, he’ll definitely tune in on TV.
“He’s now in that No. 1 seat, and it’s different when you’re there,” Nate McMillan said. “I tell him to just teach what you know. Don’t try to go out and be someone else. One thing I know is that he’ll be well-prepared, because he’s a well-prepared young fellow.”
By Rod Walker