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‘Pretty special and pretty rare’: Quin Snyder and his Utah Jazz players open up about him coaching the All-Star Game

The coach’s “long journey” has this year yielded a reward for his technical acumen and personal touch, but also given his players a chance to joke about how seriously he’ll treat an unserious game.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder as the Utah Jazz host the Phoenix Suns, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Monday March 25, 2019. Snyder will coach in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game. He's the first Jazz coach since Frank Layden to be given the honor.

“You guys are asking me all these personal questions.”

Quin Snyder is not the biggest fan of personal questions.

You can ask the Utah Jazz coach anything at all about basketball — cross-matching in transition defense … ball-handling in the high quadrant … small-small pick-and-rolls … off-the-dribble 3s early in the shot clock — and get a ridiculously detailed and sometimes labyrinthine response befitting a man with undergraduate, law, and M.B.A. degrees from Duke University.

But personal questions? Good luck. Except for right now, because he’s been put in a position where he can’t as readily say no, or circumnavigate the query.

“Quin, I want to ask you more about the All-Star Game.”

“You and my wife!” he interjects with a laugh.

Oooohhhh — he opened that door himself. Totally fair game. So, what does Amy Snyder think about Quin coaching Team LeBron in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, to be held Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta?

“She’s excited. I mean, when you’ve started in the D-League together, there’s a gratification about the evolution of your time together,” Quin Snyder said. “Especially when you move. I moved five times in five years. Something like that. A long road.”

2010: Austin to Philadelphia.

2011: Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

2012: Los Angeles to Russia.

2013: Russia to Atlanta.

2014: Atlanta to Salt Lake City.

And now, in 2021, he’s not moving, but he is going from Salt Lake City back to Atlanta, for just a day or two, to serve as head coach of a team in the All-Star Game, owing to his having led the Jazz to the best record in the NBA at the break.

A long road, indeed.

A ‘wizard of basketball’ who’s also magical off the court

Snyder’s pretty much been a basketball lifer.

Two-time Washington (state) Basketball Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American at Mercer Island High School. Three-year starting point guard under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, where he helped lead the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances. A one-year stint as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers under Larry Brown back in 1992-93. Assistant/associate head coach at Duke under Coach K from ’93-’99. Head coach at Missouri. Three years as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs’ D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. Player development coach for the 76ers on Doug Collins’ staff. Assistant coach for the Lakers under Mike Brown. He then followed European legend Ettore Messina from L.A.’s bench to CSKA Moscow, where he served as lead assistant. Mike Budenholzer then brought him back to the NBA to be his top assistant with the Hawks.

And then, on June 6, 2014, he was hired by Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who’d known him since their days together in the Spurs organization, where Lindsey had served as assistant GM.

Asked if it was rewarding to have gone from all those dues-paying stints to now coaching in the All-Star Game, Snyder quipped, “It was rewarding not to have to take all the stickers off my boxes!” before growing serious.

“The fact that I was able to spend time in a number of different places with a number of different people was rewarding in and of itself,” he added. “Because there were a lot of people that really helped me, and helped me grow at various times, and gave me opportunities. And that’s something, in this business, that’s really important.”

NBA ALL-STAR GAME

At Atlanta

When • Sunday

Skills competition and 3-point contest • 4:30 p.m. MT

All-Star Game • 6 p.m. MT

TV • TNT

Of course, Snyder is not exactly a charity case. He got those gigs because he’s long been regarded as one of the premier X’s and O’s coaches in the league, something that’s apparent to the Utah Jazz players he’s guided this season.

“He’s one of the wizards of basketball. He’s thinking about it 24/7, he’s thinking about how to be perfect,” said Donovan Mitchell, now a two-time All-Star. “And I think that’s something that you see in our team, just finding ways to continue to elevate our game and be better and be perfect. That’s a reflection of him.”

Snyder’s gifts as the man holding the whiteboard go well beyond tactical acumen, though.

Two-time All-Star Rudy Gobert, one of just two current Jazz players on the roster (along with Derrick Favors) when Snyder took over, said the trust that the coach engenders with his players — going both ways — is what makes him special.

“The main thing is, first of all, he believed in me. You know, when he got here, before that I wasn’t playing; when he got here, he gave me a chance, he trusted me, put me on the court. And [throughout] that season, which was my second season, he trusted me more and more and more,” Gobert said. “I went from being in the G League to being the [Jazz’s] backup and to being the starting center. It started from there, and then [kept] building year after year, getting better year after year, through the ups and downs. When you have that kind of connection with your coach, and you’ve been through all those years with your coach, it’s a bond that is pretty strong.”

While Mitchell acknowledges that the term “players’ coach” is an overused cliché, he asserts that Snyder is the embodiment of its truest distillation.

“He’s a great coach, but an even better person. He relates to his players … each individual player — I don’t think he goes out there and just keeps his attention on the main guys or whatever; one through 15, he’s having moments, teachable moments, life moments,” he said. “That’s one thing that I definitely appreciate. We’ve had conversations about life, not even basketball, and that just helps you understand that this is a game, but at the end of day, life is life. And that helps build that connection.”

Joe Ingles, who along with his wife, Renae, revealed back in February 2019 that their son, Jacob, had been diagnosed with autism, called Snyder unique in his ability to connect with his players.

It’s not merely that Snyder was supportive of Ingles when he was going through what he called “the toughest year of my career.” It’s that he says Snyder is that supportive of everyone all the time.

“Obviously, we’re close. And that started when I met him when I was playing in Barcelona the first time. He’s very relatable. Obviously, he cares for each and every one that’s been here over the seven years,” Ingles said. “And that’s one of the the coolest parts, the best parts, when you’ve got a coach that actually cares about you — not just as a player, and how I can get [to my] left and how he’s going to put me in the best position to do that, but to ask about your family, ask about your kids, ask about what’s going on off the court.

“I mean, I’ve played in Europe, I’ve played for tons of different coaches,” Ingles added, “but to have someone that genuinely cares about everyone — I mean guys that have been traded, guys that have been cut, guys that are on 10-day [contracts], everyone that’s been here, he cares about them — to me, that’s pretty special and pretty rare.”

And as a result, the caring gets reciprocated.

Snyder said the best part of finding out he was going to be coaching in the All-Star Game was the messages of support the Jazz sent him in response.

“When the players were really excited for me to have that opportunity, it sunk in in a lot of ways, what they had done and what we were able to do together over time,” Snyder said. “You reflect a little bit on it — the year before I got here, [the Jazz] won 25 games. [In his first season], we lost nine in a row in [November and] December. And I was trying to figure out a lot of stuff — mainly when we were going to get another win. So you do have a chance to reflect on those things and appreciate the players that have helped.

“These guys continue to improve and get better, and from that standpoint, it’s gratifying,” he added. “But I think getting a text from [Jordan Clarkson], or Donovan patting me on the back, really all of them — all of a sudden I got more text messages from our players than I was used to. So it was pretty fun.”

Quin Snyder, super-relaxed and chilled-out fun guy

Speaking of fun …

Well, to put it nicely, Snyder maybe isn’t always known for it? You look at him when he’s on the sideline, and his visage is intensity personified — a gum-destroying, dagger-staring, expletive-yelling fanatic who worships at the altar of attention to detail.

And then you juxtapose that against the All-Star Game, an event where “defense” is a four-letter word, an affair so casual and laid-back in its treatment of the usual strictures of professional basketball that Gobert wryly noted, “I wouldn’t say that scoring in the All-Star Game is a huge accomplishment” — well, you go through the mental gymnastics required to envision Snyder coaching such a game, and hilarity can’t help but ensue.

Snyder, presented with this apparent conundrum, took light-hearted umbrage with that perception of him, asking in a mock-offended tone, “I don’t look like I’m having fun?” before imploring reporters to track down former D-League referees who’ve since graduated to NBA work and to ask them to compare and contrast his “intensity on the sidelines” now to back then. He then asserted, “I think our guys know that I like to have fun.”

His players, in response, lovingly threw him under the fun bus.

Asked if he could see Snyder taking things easy, Clarkson laughed aloud.

“Nah, not really. He’s probably gonna have [LeBron James] getting back in transition defense, those guys playing hard, crashing the glass, doing all that,” he said. “… Hopefully he don’t run too many plays for Don and Rudy while he’s there, giving [other players] some insight.”

Mitchell, for his part, was imagining the opposite problem, should he be drafted to Team Durant rather than Team LeBron.

“Playing against coach, if that happens, that would be definitely a different experience,” Mitchell said with a smile. “He’d probably game-plan against me in all the right ways.”

QUIN SNYDER WITH THE JAZZ

Year-by-year regular season records:

2014-15: 38-44

2015-16: 40-42

2016-17: 51-31

2017-18: 48-34

2018-19: 50-32

2019-20: 44-28

2020-21: 27-9

Even with the traditional All-Star Weekend activities either condensed or done away with altogether in a nod to COVID-19 protocols and limiting exposure to the coronavirus, Ingles nevertheless got a kick out of the mental image of Snyder shocking his All-Star team members by going all hardcore on them, before turning around shuddering at the potential impact the game could subsequently have on the Jazz.

“I mean, he’ll probably have a team practice with a shootaround, knowing him. Who knows what he will do,” Ingles said. “… Hopefully he just enjoys it, because he’s going to start yelling at us when he gets back.”

Meanwhile, the question wasn’t even fully out of the reporter’s mouth when Gobert started grinning.

“Actually, we were talking about it the other day. It’s going to be funny to see him in a kind of, like, not-as-competitive game, where he’s just trying to win, but it’s not the same. That would be new to us,” said the Frenchman. “It might be a little awkward for him to try to be easygoing, to let things go.”

The center added that, in the event he wound up on the opposing team, he’d be doing his best to goad Snyder on.

“We’re going to talk — maybe hopefully — a little trash, and I’m trying to get Quin to get a technical or something,” Gobert added.

Snyder asserted there was an approximately zero-percent chance of that happening (“I don’t think Rudy’s going to be able to taunt me into that no matter what he says”) before attempting to put everyone at ease over his mental state regarding a glorified exhibition.

“I don’t intend to try to put my thumbprint on the game,” Snyder said. “I hope all the guys that I’m coaching can give me some advice on how not to screw it up. I don’t have any illusions about why we’re there and what we’re doing. It should be a fun weekend.”

Ingles, however, serious again for a moment, did have some thoughts on why Snyder was there.

And they had nothing to do massaging superstar egos or keeping coaching colleagues happy by not playing their team’s main guy too many minutes. No, they were more … well, personal.

“We won 25 games [before he got here], and to build it into what it is now — a lot of that is him. We can go out and shoot 3s and play basketball and all that, but the dedication and all the time and effort that he’s put in over six and a half years now is impressive,” Ingles said. “And he, as you guys know, hasn’t taken his foot off the gas from day one. … Hopefully he enjoys it, because he does deserve it. And I think it shouldn’t be taken lightly how much influence he’s had on this organization since coming in.

“I don’t want to say I’m proud of him, because he’s my coach,” the Aussie added, before hesitating, “but … uh, I’m kind of proud him.”

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