The New Orleans Pelicans revealed their inaugural coaching staff for their first year partnership with the Erie Bayhawks and it includes Greivis Vasquez, the team’s new associate head coach.
“Who doesn’t want to work in the NBA?” Vasquez told me. “Who doesn’t want to coach in the NBA? This is a really good start and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
I caught up with Vasquez at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida where Vasquez spent the week mentoring the boys and girls of Jr. NBA Global, an organization committed to “teaching children the fundamentals of the sport, life skills and core values,” according to NBA Senior Vice President David Krichavsky.
Among some important life lessons Vasquez tried to instill in the children were values beyond the game being played on the court, and more so off of it. Vasquez spoke about how his own struggles to return to the court from nagging injuries had recently affected him.
“Well, that’s a very good question because sometimes we think basketball is everything and basketball is part of our lives,” Vasquez continued. “I mean I haven’t played in almost ten years and obviously I struggle because I’m not out of the NBA because of my talent but because of my injury.”
“You’ve got to give them the right information and you’ve got to be as real as you can be. I had a really good session with them today because what I’m going through is very tough. When I was 13, 14 years old, I didn’t take care of myself. I just did more than I was supposed to do. So that’s why my ankle got really bad, and when I became a professional basketball player, then it got chronic. I couldn’t do anything else.“
Vasquez went on to discuss why programs like Jr. NBA Global are so important to teaching children about maintaining the body and mind. He spoke about what it means to be special both on and off the court — messages he missed at a similar age.
“I didn’t have a mentor,” said Vazquez. “I didn’t have a Jr. NBA to actually teach me the ways. So to me what the Jr. NBA is doing and the way they’re working with kids and developing the youth is very important because they’re not only doing it on the court. They’re doing it off the court too with life skills and things like that.”
These messages will become important to fans because the information Vasquez is translating to these young student-athletes is a similar message Vasquez plans on bringing to training camp when he has to deal with young players with equal or greater basketball expectations.
“So now that I work with these players,” said Vazquez. “These young players with the Pelicans, like Zion, especially international players, Didi, I’ll have a different approach. It’s more than basketball. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I want them to enjoy the game — even when they’re pro — so that this is a good experience overall.”
Mentally, Vasquez appears the perfect candidate to both lead and mentor these young players over the next few weeks and into training camp, after which he will depart to join the Pelicans new subsidiary in Erie, Pennsylvania. When asked what he thought of the young group, he made clear his praise of the young prospects.
“They’re ready,” said Vazquez. “I don’t know what the plan is, but I tell you I think David Griffin and Trajan did a great job drafting these players and I’m excited. Hopefully, we get to work with them, but I think they’re NBA ready.”
The Pelicans roster is deep and brimming with talent at every position. The young duo of Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker may be NBA-ready, but there appears few minutes will be available on a team very much armed to challenge for a Western Conference playoff spot now. Also, there are still questions in need of answering in the forms of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jahlil Okafor. The Pelicans can afford to be patient with their young duo and that may mean short stints in the G League like Frank Jackson enjoyed last season.
But there’s another rookie in New Orleans who has directly bolstered ticket sales and the number of nationally televised appearances for the upcoming season. However, in terms of on the court expectations, Vasquez was quick to pump the brakes on Zion Williamson.
“He can’t be really perfect, but we don’t need him to be something out of control, out of this world,” said Vazquez. “We need him to be the ‘glue guy.’ We’ve got Jrue Holiday. We’ve got a guy who should be in the running for the MVP next season, so the pressure’s not going to be laid on him alone. I think he’s going to really have a great year.”
The Pelicans’ organization has been universal in this offseason message, and yet Zion’s physical progress has been one of definitive interest both locally and nationally. How can the Pelicans best mold the 285-pound beast an 82-game suit of armor?
“I mean we’re already working on that,” said Vazquez. “He’s doing a great job. He’s a great listener, he’s coachable, he’s everything you’d describe in a number one pick. He’s already working on his body, and he’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing as a rookie. He’s in New Orleans with the Saints in their facility, doing some stuff with them.”
Vasquez has intimate knowledge of the 2019 number one overall draft pick from his time with the organization at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he spent a great deal of time getting to know the former Blue Devil.
“I think Zion is actually going to be fine,” said Vazquez. “I think he’s going to do a great job, and I say this because I spent part of the summer with the team and I worked with him closely.“
The Pelicans can afford to be patient with all of their rookies. Regardless of any immediate progress they may make in their initial campaign, one thing remains clear to Vasquez: this team and this organization are headed in the right direction.
“I really like our team,” said Vazquez. “I really like what we’re doing as a team. I love what the front office is doing and what they’re putting together.”
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Let’s geaux, Pels!