November 28, 2023

Jazz owner Ryan Smith (left) introduces coach Will Hardy.

Salt Lake City (AFP) Will Hardy knew some of the inner workings of the Utah Jazz before he was named the league’s youngest current coach.

Sure, it was 2009, and he was just an intern.

Prior to his final year at Williams College, he spent eight weeks in the Operations Department, mornings with jazz, afternoons helping the Salt Lake Bees — an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels — and evenings at the gym rehab from hip surgery.

One of Hardy’s initial assignments was to make tours of the Vivint Arena, a building he had not entered prior to his internship. That didn’t stop him – and his ability to adapt quickly can now serve jazz well.

“These[tours]were definitely full of adventures,” Hardy said. “I was kind of learning about building as I went.”

Utah introduced Hardy as her coach Tuesday. The 34-year-old, who was an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, will lead the ship as the team navigates a rebuilding process with All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell as the cornerstone.

The change began when Quinn Snyder stepped down in June after eight seasons, followed by deals that fired three-times NBA best defensive player Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neill and brought in owner Beasley, Jared Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverly. The team also collected a variety of first-round NBA draft picks to use as building blocks.

Hardy is ready to embrace whatever direction Jazz CEO and General Manager Danny Inge and General Manager Justin Zanic decides.

“I trust Danny and Justin,” Hardy said. “Their track record and history speak for themselves. But they were really open, communicative and helpful throughout the process.”

Hardy’s coaching philosophy won over Ainge and Zanik during the interview process. Ainge said they put him through exercises to learn his approach to everything from survey reports to player development plans.

“Yes, he’s 34, but he didn’t feel like 34 for us and we didn’t pay much attention to that,” said Ainge, who Hardy admired for his basketball acumen. “He seemed very mature, very ready…so many times in his answers, he spoke my language.”

Hardy beat veteran NBA coaches Frank Vogel and Terry Stotts for the job during an extensive process that included final interviews with team owner Ryan Smith and minority owner Dwyane Wade.

“It seemed as if after the few stages we were through, Will was our guy and we couldn’t be more excited,” Ainge said.

Another thing that caught Ainge’s attention: Hardy’s commitment to repetitive practice, because for him repetition is a key component. But it doesn’t have to be a traditional 90 minutes, Hardy said.

“We need to reframe that a little bit. Practice can be 30 minutes. It can be mid-season difficult. The schedule is stressful. … But I think in order to build habits and know what it feels like to do it right, you have to do it,” Hardy said. At full speed.

Hardy has some coaching experience, albeit limited, with a few players currently on the jazz list. He was an assistant on Greg Popovich’s staff when Rudy Gay played for Tottenham from 2017 to 2021 and assisted with Team USA – which Mitchell played for – during the 2019 Basketball World Cup.

Hardy knows he needs to get the team back on track after chemistry problems caused Utah’s collapse late last season.

“Strength, sacrifice and passion are the three things that are most important to me,” Hardy said. “I want our group to be very competitive and able to handle adversity. I would like everyone to realize that this is bigger than them individually. Everyone will have to step out of their comfort zone a little bit as we go forward.”

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