How Brandon Roy Became a Great Coach: 'Mom Said Keep Your Ego Out Of It'

Dan Raley

At Seattle's inner-city Garfield High, a dozen basketball players rotate in and out of halfcourt drills. Everything moves at a crisp pace. These guys take the game seriously at this school. They always have. 

More state championship banners hang on the walls of this gymnasium than in any other across the state. Player ribbons dangle from the ceiling and add to the basketball mystique.

Everyone in purple and white gear brings a certain skill level to this workout. Mascot players aren't part of this program. Shot after shot swishes through. Yet make a mistake and the offender immediately drops to the floor and does a set of push-ups.

Little kids sit and intently watch this well-coordinated activity until they get antsy and jog to the other end to take their own shots.

A half-dozen coaches keep everyone focused and accountable as Garfield prepares for a Saturday playoff game. In the middle of all this is Brandon Roy, the former NBA All-Star, the 2006 NCAA Player of the Year for the Washington Huskies and Garfield's greatest player.

Roy is the head coach, the one with the most authoritative voice. He constantly steps in and offers his opinion. As if he needed to do any more to relate to these teens, he's the guy wearing a do-rag.

"They don't know what they do for me," Roy said. "They give me that feeling that I'm still playing."

Bad knees forced him out of pro basketball well before his time, ending a glorious run with the Portland Trail Blazers and a short stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the subject of this book as he stepped away from it all.

Four years after his forced NBA retirement, he began coaching at Seattle's Nathan Hale High in 2017 with no background whatsoever and won a state championship with an unbeaten team. He moved to his alma mater the following year and captured another state title with a once-beaten team.

"Really the thing that brought me to coaching was I missed basketball." Roy said. "Even though I was no longer able to play the game and develop, I still wanted to be around it."

After taking off 2019 from coaching to deal with personal issues, Roy returned and has his team pointed to state again. He owns a glistening 78-5 coaching record. He leads a high school coaching staff to envy, one that includes former Husky teammates Tre Simmons and Jamal Williams.

"I'd never coached a basketball team before," he said. "The most I had done was coaching little kids at Team Romar Camp."

Roy made up for his lack of experience by throwing himself into it, building that dream team of assistant coaches and being a magnet for players who wanted a former NBA standout to lead them.

He wasn't the first pro basketball player to coach at Garfield. That was former Sonics guard Al Hairston. Nor was he the first former Bulldogs standout to run the team. That was JoJo Rodriguez, the point guard for the 1974 Super Dogs, considered the state's greatest high school basketball team ever.

With his immediate success, others frequently quiz Roy about whether he wants to move up the ranks as he did as a player. 

"People ask me but right now I'm not chasing it the same way I did as a player," said Roy, who sounds like a coach. "As a player I wanted to get as good as I could in high school and see how good I am in college and the ultimate goal was make it to the NBA.

"My ultimate goal is not to coach in the NBA but to build a real solid foundation at my alma mater. I don't feel challenged to make it to the next level. I feel challenged right here to make it at this level."

As practice comes to a close, Roy gathers his players around him and his coaches and they talk about the game ahead. Before everyone heads home, he has them shake hands. Players and players. Coaches and players. It's a show of respect and togetherness.

Riding team busses, walking into Seattle-area gyms and good-naturedly bantering with his players has enabled Roy to fill the void that pro basketball left. His competitive instincts and strong work ethic have helped him figure things out and become this successful leader.

Mostly, he just listened to his mother, a Garfield alum, and followed her insightful direction to become a topflight coach. 

"My mom gave me the best advice -- she said keep your ego out of it," Roy said. "She said do that and she trusted that I'd be pretty good at it."

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