Orem • Mark Madsen has a Jamba Juice in one hand and a stack of papers in the other when he enters the top floor of the NUVI Basketball Center. It’s his gym now.
So he looks out at the youth basketball camp going on below, then turns a corner into his new office that, admittedly, isn’t nearly Mark Madsen enough yet. The walls are still too bare for his liking. All in due time they’ll be dolled up with family photos, images of his NBA career that included a couple titles, photos of his coaching path that’s now weaved its way to Orem.
After plopping down on a leather chair in his new corner digs, he happily explains how his commute to work is now exactly 14 minutes. Could be less if he hits the stoplight jackpot in Utah County. Of course he can’t help but laugh comparing it to what it used to be, when he was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, spending as many as two and a half hours in a car on a game day.
From the Madsen’s old home in Century City, it’d take about 30 minutes to get to the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. Then 45 minutes back home. Later on, at least an hour to get to Staples Center, sometimes more. Then, in the wee hours of the night after the lights in Staples were turned off, about 20 minutes home.
Car rides were filled with books on tape, online courses on tape, random phone calls to friends and family, you name it.
“You get used to it,” he says.
He was, and for a good long while. Madsen, 43, had been part of the Lakers fabric for the past two decades after the franchise drafted him out of Stanford in 2000. He went on to play alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, won a couple rings, and then made his way back to the organization in 2013 as a developmental coach with the Lakers’ then D-League team.
It’ll likely be a habit he’ll never break, but when talking about the Lakers, Madsen still says, “we.” But he and his wife, Hannah, traded in the gridlocked freeways and sun-soaked days in Southern California for a new adventure. One that takes 14 minutes to get to work and Madsen is determined to make his mark as a first-time head coach in college basketball.
Time to restock
Before another summer of #WojBombs took place and the NBA went through a huge free agency upheaval, Mark Madsen was the subject of one of Adrian Wojnarowski’s patented NBA scoops. After six years on the Lakers staff, the ESPN NBA insider broke the news on April 14 that UVU had hired Madsen to succeed Mark Pope, who returned to BYU to replace the retiring Dave Rose. That’s when you know you’re a big deal. Madsen laughs again when that’s brought up.
The three months since have been nothing short of a blur.
Madsen’s had to piece together a staff, and much more importantly, piece together a roster. In the weeks and months following Pope’s move across town, only five players remained from a roster of 15. Two of his three big men transferred. Another suffered an injury that will keep him out this year. Madsen was waking up at 2 a.m. drenched in a cold sweat wondering who was going to snag rebounds for his team this year.
Welcome to life as a head coach.
“All of a sudden there was this massive pressure of, ‘Hey, I’ve got to re-stock. I’ve got to sign players. I’ve got to replace the guys that left.’ That was not easy,” Madsen explains. “I didn’t know so many key guys were going to transfer. But I’m grateful for the guys we were able to keep.”
Madsen didn’t take any of it personally. That’s the state of college hoops and he says if it’s good for the player, it’s good for college basketball. It should always be about them, he added, no matter what. So he and his staff set out to fill in the gaps to prepare for Year 1. They went all over the country, finding players who were looking for their own change, to come in and help Madsen make his own tweaks. Under Pope, UVU found transfers who settled in Orem and helped the Wolverines win games.
“Obviously transfers have really helped us here and he agreed [to keep that trend going],” said UVU assistant Eric Daniels who worked with Pope. “I think the program was, and still is, heading in the right direction.”
What’s the sell then? How will Madsen try to convince high school students and transfers in-state and nationwide to think of UVU as a destination? This is where he pulls out the Lakers card, and who could blame him? Madsen helped run the NBA Draft process for the Lakers, he’s worked out hundreds upon hundreds of NBA hopefuls over the years. He isn’t selling himself short on anything either. The Lakers had been drafting teenagers in the first round the past few years, so he’s worked closely with players like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.
“I think we will do player development better here than anywhere else in the country,” he said.
The standard is already sky-high.
Authentically Mad Dog
In 2009, the late Flip Saunders pleaded with Madsen over the phone. He wanted “Mad Dog” to come play with and serve as a mentor for the young Washington Wizard frontline. He told Saunders he’d report to training camp and take it from there. But then he slept on it and he woke up the next day knowing that his NBA days were over. His heart wasn’t in it. “I just wasn’t feeling like I wanted to go to war,” he said. So he started looking for spots where he could trade in his sneakers for a suit and tie.
He interviewed for an open spot on Dick Hunsaker’s staff at UVU in 2009. It was the only open assistant coaching job he knew of in the state. He called pretty much everyone else. Instead, he landed as an assistant coach for the former Utah Flash. Now, all these years later, he’s a head coach in the same building that kickstarted his career on the bench.
The past decade has helped shape Madsen for this. There’s a reason he survived several regime changes at the Lakers, from Byron Scott to Luke Walton, Madsen remained. Former Lakers assistant coach Clay Moser, now an assistant at Arkansas, said Madsen will assimilate to the culture of the college game just fine.
“The players like him because they know he’s sincere and they know he’s authentic,” Moser said. “At the end of the day, you just have to be who you are. You can’t be something that you’re not and people, generally, if they’ve got any wits about them whatsoever, they will appreciate that. The other thing that happens with players, particularly at the NBA level, is they’ll sniff out very, very quickly if you’re trying to be something you’re not.”
What makes Mark Madsen unique is that your surface-level assumptions about him are basically spot-on. In L.A. or in Orem, those close to him say he’s the smiling guy, who will put his arm around you when needs be, who will be able to show the ropes, who will be the coach who still jumps in on pick-up games. Word is he threw down a posterizing dunk on someone in a scrimmage recently. Mad Dog’s still got hops.
“I think Utah Valley will be the perfect place for him to get his feet wet and for him to try out things that he thinks will work,” Moser said.
UVU’s new head man has really experienced it all. He’s been part of an NBA dynasty, part of lavish chartered flights with servings of warm, gooey cookies and he’s been jammed in that middle seat on Southwest Airlines flying into Des Moines, Iowa, studying scouting reports as a D-League assistant coach. He’s been stuck for hours on end in L.A. traffic and he’s now walking into UVU’s new basketball facility on campus with a purple Jamba Juice in hand eager for the fall to approach.