Since being unceremoniously fired by Marquette University following the 2021 season, Steve Wojciechowski’s self-proclaimed “basketball journey” turned a bit eclectic.
“I spent two years out of it, if you don’t count the seventh- and eighth-grade teams I coached in Park City,” he said Wednesday morning. “I do.”
Wojciechowski’s newest gig, though, will be slightly higher-profile than leading the Miners’ minors.
He was officially introduced as the head coach of the Salt Lake City Stars — the G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz — in a news conference held at the organization’s Zions Bank Basketball Campus.
Wojciechowski replaces Scott Morrison, who is being promoted to an assistant coaching job on Will Hardy’s staff with the Jazz.
He’s been coming to Utah off and on for a few decades, on account of his wife Lindsay being a Salt Lake City native, and her parents still living in the state. He and Lindsay got married at Deer Valley. When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, no one was even allowed on the Marquette campus for three months, so the Wojciechowskis decided to buy a second home in Park City and come out west for a while.
And when Marquette let him go, the family decided to make the move to Utah permanent.
While he filled his time with an assortment of activities, from hiking to yoga to consulting to running clinics to, well, coaching kids’ teams, he also got to keep one foot planted in high-level basketball, owing to then-Jazz coach Quin Snyder — a friend dating back to their shared time at Duke in the 1990s — inviting him to spend some time hanging around the NBA program.
“I’ve spent two years in Park City, and during those two years, the Jazz organization — Justin [Zanik] and Danny [Ainge] and those guys, and Quin, who’s a good friend of mine — were very generous with allowing me to observe and watch them work,” Wojciechowski said.
That invitation apparently extended beyond Snyder’s departure from the organization and into Hardy’s tenure.
That led to a new opportunity, while also providing a template he’s eager to adopt.
“I want to do a great job of creating a culture that mirrors the Jazz,” he said. “Watching what Will did this year, it was incredible. I saw a team that competed every night, I saw a team that was connected, and I saw a team that played with joy.”
Speaking of which, Wojciechowski has spent the past two years working to get his own joy back.
The daily grind of the job at Marquette, and always feeling like he was moving a million miles an hour, he said, produced a kind of “inertia” that precluded him from taking the time for necessary self-reflection.
Suddenly, embracing the anonymity of coaching local kids — and his own kids — instead of having to navigate the pressurized scrutiny that comes with struggling through a conference schedule and trying to qualify for the NCAA Tournament simplified the game for him again.
“To see the game through my kids’ eyes again, and their friends’ eyes, that was awesome,” Wojciechowski said, choking up at times and fighting back tears. “One of the things I promised my kids is that when I got back into coaching, there was always going to be joy to it. Because that’s why I fell in love with the game. … I found joy in the game as a young person, and if I’m completely transparent and honest, at the end of my [college] coaching journey, I lost that. And I’m not losing it again.”
He added that the time he got to spend sitting in on practices and meetings with Snyder and Hardy also brought some much-needed perspective.
It’s a perspective that he hopes will make his run with the Stars better than his tenure with Marquette.
“The time away gave me the chance to study and watch, primarily the people in the Jazz organization, whether it was Quin two years ago or Will this past year — I got to study what some of the best coaches in the world do. And it opens up your eyes,” Wojciechowski said. “… And so for these two years, I feel like I’m a better person and I feel like I know more about the game. And when you marry those two things, my hope is it produces a better coach.”
This wasn’t necessarily a gig he was expecting — “When I was planning my summer, I didn’t have this on my bingo card,” he joked, noting that he’ll be juggling a few different things for awhile, including some previously scheduled kids’ hoops camps.
And yet, making his initial foray into professional coaching via the NBA’s affiliate league is something that appeals to his newfound sensibilities.
“The mission of the G League is particularly intriguing to me, because it’s a league of development and growth,” he said. “Now, look, winning is super-important to me, and if you ask anybody that I’ve ever been around, they would agree with that statement. But the opportunity to be a part of players’ and staffs’ journey as they grow and try to develop in their own basketball journeys is something that I’m the most excited about.”
And he believes that he’s well-suited to helping those journeys along.
Not merely because of his X’s and O’s acumen, but because of that aforementioned “basketball journey” that he’s been on. Playing at Duke, trying to play professionally in Poland, coaching at Duke, coaching at Marquette, serving as an assistant and scout with Team USA, getting fired from Marquette … and coaching seventh- and eighth-graders in Park City, Utah.
The basketball universe he’s about to embrace is a chaotic one, with near-constant turnover, and so many young men’s dreams seemingly within reach, and yet so far away.
He identifies with all of it.
“If you’re in the G League, you’re a high-level achiever, and there’s something there that needs to be developed and brought out so that you can be your best self. I’ve experienced that journey personally, and I have reference points,” Wojciechowski said. “I have reference points for failure, I have reference points for challenge, I have reference points for struggle, but I also have reference points for incredible success. And my hope is to share that daily with the guys and with the people that I work with.”