Hawks’ Summer League coach Nick Van Exel ready to help players succeed in NBA

Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel has turned his attention to helping this generation of players reach their goals. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Credit: AP

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Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel has turned his attention to helping this generation of players reach their goals. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Credit: AP

Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel understands what it takes to get to the NBA. So with the Hawks tapping him to be their Summer League coach, he’s turned his attention to helping this generation reach their own goals.

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The 50-year-old Van Exel spent 13 seasons in the NBA after the Lakers drafted him with the 37th pick in the 1993 NBA draft. So he knows that making it to the league is only the first step to making it in the league.

That’s why his biggest goal is to make sure he prepares the 15 players on the Hawks’ Summer League roster for their next steps.

“You know, the biggest thing nowadays is learning how to communicate with a different generation of players. You know, being positive, having a good impact on them as far as the way the game of basketball is played, and the way others will perceive you.

“Because, going into the Vegas Summer League, it’s not really about the team that you’re playing for. It’s 29 other teams that will have eyes on your guys. So just teaching them about doing things the right way, on and off the court, having good mannerisms on the court, on the bench, you know, being a good positive teammate, and just doing things the right way on the court as far as, you know, basketball is concerned.”

The Hawks have three players on their roster who are under contract and one whom they likely will sign. The team signed Sharife Cooper and Chaundee Brown to two-way deals. On Sunday, the Hawks signed AJ Griffin to his rookie deal, but they have not inked a deal yet with second-round pick Tyrese Martin.

“You know, the biggest thing nowadays is learning how to communicate with a different generation of players. You know, being positive, having a good impact on them as far as the way the game of basketball is played, and the way others will perceive you."

- Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel

But Van Exel is ready to coach them into a position where they will succeed. He became interested in coaching when he was a player. He began to seriously consider it around 2003 when he was traded from the Mavericks to the Warriors.

He retired from the NBA following the 2005-06 season and decided to take some time off before getting into coaching. He acknowledged that if he could go back, he would have gotten into coaching right away.

“Knowing what I know now, I probably would have tried to get right into it as soon as I retire,” he said. “Because, you know, this league is really out of sight, out of mind, and it was tough trying to get back in. So it took me, I think, four or five years to get back into the NBA.”

He got his first gig as an assistant coach with Texas Southern in 2009 and made several other stops before joining the Hawks last year. After years of working under Larry Drew, David Fizdale, J.B. Bickerstaff and now Nate McMillan, he’s ready to take what he’s learned into this opportunity.

With Summer League providing one of the first chances that rookies and other young players have to make an impression, Van Exel said he will stress the importance of the work they put in.

“I think the most important part for you for younger players is to work, work, work, especially in the summertime, and to pay attention to detail,” Van Exel said. “And if you want to play in the NBA as a young player, you have to gain the head coach’s trust. And by doing that, you work hard, and you show you can play the game the right way. You make right reads on the offensive end, and you compete your butt off on the defensive end.”

A former Texas Legends (the G League affiliate of the Mavericks) head coach, Van Exel already has seen that the young Hawks players are putting in the work. He said Cooper was working out four to five times a week at Georgia Tech with some other NBA players.

Now he hopes to see Cooper step into a leadership role at Summer League to take the next step forward in his development.

“Thing is, his focus is really good right now in the summer,” Van Exel said. “So, for me personally, what I would like to see Sharife get better at is, or do more of, I should say, is, you know, picking up full court getting after guys and just being the ultimate playmaker, ultimate leader. You know, talking to guys, keeping guys motivated, giving them good, encouraging words and just leading, leading by example. And he’s been off to a great start this summer.”

The Hawks are set to open Summer League play on Saturday against the Jazz.