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Mery Andrade, identified as ‘big-time coaching talent’ by New Orleans Pelicans, proved her worth with Erie Bayhawks this season

Don’t be surprised to see Andrade sitting on an NBA bench one day soon

Erie BayHawks v Grand Rapids Drive Photo by Allison Farrand/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans front office has been lauded for its combination of personnel moves and front office hires over the past 12 months and for good reason. Its success can be measured in the decisive surge the Pelicans made during the second half of the season and the camaraderie that formed within the locker room.

One unheralded move that deserves some attention involves the hiring of Erie Bayhawks assistant coach, Mery Andrade.

If you’re not familiar with Andrade, she quickly asserted herself as one of the most instrumental members of the Bayhawks coaching staff and is one of the Pelicans secret weapons in acclimating international athletes to their organization.

In fact, Andrade was one of general manager Trajan Langdon’s first hires with the Pelicans developmental franchise in Erie, Pennsylvania, even before appointing head coach Ryan Pannone.

“She was hired by Trajan Langdon and David Griffin Griffin before me,” head coach Ryan Pannone recently said to me. “They identified her as a big-time coaching talent. By the time I got the job, she was already here. That goes to show you her value and importance to Griffin, Langdon and Alvin Gentry.”

Andrade’s track record as a coach is nearly as extensive as her playing career, both in the WNBA and abroad. As a collegiate athlete, she led the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs to the National Title game in 1997, before earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1999.

Andrade gained the Bayhawks’ young ears with quite the decorated professional resume which included collegiate success and 15 years combined in the WNBA and FIBA. Known as a relentless defender with a non-stop motor, she earned respect from colleagues with her inability to take a play off throughout her career.

“She was a feisty, tough, hard-nosed physical player,” Pannone continued. “She brought that to our team and to our staff. Her passion as a player, she brought that to our staff, our practices, our games and our meetings. I was fortunate to work with her and learned a lot from her.”

“Her energy and enthusiasm for the game and what it takes to play at the highest level is infectious,” Bayhawks president Matt Bresee told me via email.

In addition to her tremendous energy, Andrade’s coaches discovered early that she had an ability to dissect and anticipate the game as it unfolded. Each of her coaches noticed her acute awareness and penchant for absorbing and translating the game plan both on the floor and off of it. That, plus her ability to coach up teammates, instantly made her a valuable on-floor general.

“When I played, I played for 15 years, all my coaches used to say, ‘You’re the coach on the floor.’ I’d say,’ No! I’m too young! I don’t want to think about that.’”

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Andrade to earn her first shot in the coaching ranks, but the fun part is that moment came when she hadn’t even finished playing yet.

“The first time I actually coached, I was in Italy. I was a player. The assistant coach got fired and my coach was looking for an assistant coach for two weeks and then just came to me.”

“He said, ‘You’re already a coach. You might as well just do it.’”

Soon after, Andrade shared her newfound passion at stops in Portugal as well as Italy before serving as a head coach for the first time for the U14 Quinta dos Lambos Team.

Her evolving skill set as a former player and multi-lingual coach gave her the unique ability to instruct in a variety of ways. Originally from Cape Verde, Andrade’s world travels granted her knowledge of the English, Spanish, Portugese, Italian and French languages and that fact has already paid dividends in Erie.

“We actually already had a situation like that. We had an athlete (Herve ‘Kaba’ Kabasele) from Congo transfer from a Spanish league. His Spanish and English wasn’t very good.”

Quickly translating the Bayhawks game plan and getting Kaba in tune with his teammates helped him quickly acclimate to the newfound system, and it put him in a good position to succeed, something necessary for fringe athletes with a limited window to impress NBA scouts.

“In timeouts, I went to him and we want over the plan, the plays. That’s one of the things I can bring to the table.”

That skill will prove invaluable under Langdon, who understands the importance of mining the international pipeline for players. Langdon himself had a good look at what the international game has to offer from his own time overseas.

“Trajan was drafted in Cleveland when I was playing in Cleveland,” Andrade joyfully recalled on our latest podcast. “He also went to Italy. I followed his career when we were there.”

In fact, during her time in Italy, she also came across Pelicans rookie forward, Nicolo Melli.

“He (Melli) was the second person I saw when I got to New Orleans,” Andrade said. “I used to follow him in Italy because when I played there he was already playing in Milan. We always text in Italian. I’m really proud of him. He deserves it. He’s a professional.”

The International Effect

While Melli may be the Pelicans most notable international asset, there’s another whose arrival may be imminent: Marcos “Didi” Louzada, the 35th overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft.

Fluent in both Spanish and Portugese, Didi spent last season in the Australian National Basketball League to add refinement to his game amongst professionals while improving his English.

However, there’s a certain comfort a player can experience when speaking his or her preferable language with a fellow international athlete whom understands the challenges of playing in a foreign country.

“It’s super helpful,” Pannone beamed on Andrade’s control of several languages. “Kaba came in and didn’t speak much English. Having her as a translator on the floor and also having her as a sense of comfort, someone he (Kaba) can have an actual conversation with off the floor...that’s super important. A lot of times, international players, they just sit in a room and do nothing. She did such a good job of keeping him engaged on and off the floor.”

“She did such a good job in what’s such an important aspect of a coach’s job which goes unnoticed of making him feel comfortable and making him feel like he’s not alone.”

The Pelicans coaching staff is currently stocked with top-tier talent but that kind of expertise doesn’t go unnoticed for long. Should an opposing team poach one of Teresa Witherspoon or AJ Diggs, the Pelicans could do themselves a service by promoting Andrade to a two-way developmental position. Doing so would give international players like Louzada and Melli the opportunity and convenience of learning from someone with both extensive experience and commonality.

“If they bring Didi over and they need a two-way developmental coach, I can run from Boston to New Orleans,” Andrade continued. “I think having international players is going to be a great thing for the league and I’m happy that I can be part of it, speaking Italian, Portugese, French, English and Spanish.”

While Didi is the most notable of the Pelicans’ international prospects, several others are considered to be worth a draft selection in this year’s class.

And the Pelicans have four picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.

You may heard names like Killian Hayes (raised in France, played in both France and Germany) Theo Maledon (France), Leandro Bolmaro (Barcelona, born in Argentina), Malcolm Cazalon (France), Amar Sylla (Belgian, speaks French), Paul Eboua (Italy), Abdoulaye N’doye (France) — each of whom speak one of Andrade’s five languages.

Should the Pelicans invest any of their first or three second round picks on an international player, having someone like Andrade to integrate them would be critical to their development.

When a prospect slides into the second round, presenting the right foundation is integral in getting an athlete to sign off. Pannone went on to talk about how Denver Nuggets forward Vlatko Kinkar opted to play for the Bayhawks because of the coaching staff’s familiarity with international players.

“It becomes important when you have players like Didi, Kaba, and Vlatko Cankar from Denver. A big part of getting him was because of the international experience on our staff.”

In five games, the 6’8” forward impressed, scoring 14.4 points with 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45.6 percent from three on 5.7 shots per game.

“Her international experience is something that I love,” Pannone said of Andrade. “My background is coaching and living abroad. To have someone on staff who understood the international philosophy was something that was really important to me.”

While Langdon’s penchant for stashing international players is well documented, head coach Alvin Gentry’s affinity for the international game is less widely known.

“Alvin Gentry has been one of the biggest coaches behind bringing international coaches,” Pannone, a fellow international coach said. “He had Igor {Kokoskov}. He’s had the mindset of playing the international style of basketball. He wants to play a very European style of play. It doesn’t just come from Trajan. It comes from Griff and Gentry too.”

Comfort Level and Forging Relationships

But Andrade’s value isn’t simply relegated to managing international players. Early on, Langdon appointed Andrade as the coach he specifically wanted in the ears of the players both on and off the floor. Andrade works in close capacity with the players, honing their skills on the court, while also focusing and measuring their interests off of it.

“When Trajan asked me if I would be interested in working with the guys off the court, I didn’t think twice,” Andrade said.

It was critical to David Griffin from the start to build more than a basketball team but a community, a family-like atmosphere as he said last summer. Creating and building on relationships off the floor would-be instrumental in forging that bond.

“When I talk to my guys, I try to relate,” Andrade said. “I’m a former player. I know what it means to be a player and what comes after.”

As much value as understanding a player’s psyche can be to coaching, Andrade takes it even further. She sets up the players for success on the basketball court and beyond, growing the young athletes into more than just players but into men.

“When you are done, you’re going to have a wake-up call. So, you need to develop skills that are going to help you and your family later on in life, to live and to survive. If they want to know about finance, do internships, music - one of my guys Vitto (Brown) is all into music.”

“They need a little push. I’m that push.”

With established knowledge of the game as well as the relationships she’s cultivated, Andrade can then hone her focus on basketball drills, where her instruction of Pelicans two-way players Josh Gray and Zylan Cheatham has continued to reward the franchise handsomely with their production.

Josh Gray, after a back-to-back, you’ll see him the next day 8 a.m. in the gym. He works so hard. He makes people around him better. The team needed him to be successful and he responded.”

“Z! (Cheatham) If you want to build a winning culture, you need a guy like Z. Great energy, so intense, can lead his teammates. Those are two great guys. They’re always in the gym. They never complain. They do the work. It’s just a matter of time for them.”

Late in February, Andrade even experimented with Pelicans 17th overall pick, Nickeil Alexander-Walker. I use the term experimented, because let’s just say his approach to shooting in Erie was a bit unconventional.

“He (NAW) tweaked his wrist a little in the first game. So, he was undecided if he was going to play against Maine or not. And it was his right hand, so he starts the game hitting a three-pointer with his left hand! I was like, ‘How amazing is that?! Are you kidding me?!’”

But despite these hilarious theatrics, NAW was a leader for the young players and that was reflected in his short stint there.

“It’s good to have NBA players, but some coaches are afraid to have them in the G-League because of the expression, ‘I’m going to do me.’ Not with Nickeil. Great professional. They loved playing with him. He ran the team. That’s what the Pelicans wanted to see from him. I was amazed. He’s a great role model for the other players.”

What’s next for Andrade?

The secret in Erie won’t stay unnoticed for long. Andrade’s level of experience, work ethic and international skill set make her invaluable to developing talent. With the influx of international players coming to the NBA, that benefit is only bound to further increase.

“Mery is a fierce competitor and relentless worker and she seemed to genuinely enjoy the grind of the G-League along with her role in helping develop our players,” Bresee told me via email.

Andrade may have been the first female coach in Bayhawks history, but she has her sights set on a much higher goal.

“That’s the dream (to coach in the NBA). I know they (Pelicans) follow the work we do. They know if they ever need help that I’m always available.”

Andrade has only been in the G League for one full season. The Pelicans may prefer to give her some more time to establish herself before making a grand promotion. But if the Pelicans continue to add to their collection of international assets in New Orleans, that dream may need to become a reality as soon as next season.

Thanks for reading! For more, listen to our conversation with Andrade below!