Brandon Roy: Back in the game
'Walking in, I'm not Brandon Roy the player. I'm the coach of this team. I'm here for these guys.'
HILLSBORO — His name was announced as the head coach of the Nathan Hale High Raiders, and Brandon Roy acknowledged the rousing ovation he received from the packed house for the Les Schwab Invitational game at Liberty High Tuesday night.
The cheers felt good. They'd gone away on Nov. 9, 2012, in the last of his brief, five-game fling with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then came the last of six knee surgeries, and Roy's NBA career was over at age 28.
Four years later, the former Trail Blazers star is back on the basketball court in a coaching gig in his hometown of Seattle. And enjoying the hell out of it.
"I like coaching," Roy said after his team's 95-65 rout of Central Catholic, a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. "I'm trying to get better at it. It's been really good for me."
Roy, still only 32, hasn't done a lot since the end of his far-too-short, six-year NBA career, in which he made the All-Star Game three times and almost single-handedly brought back Blazermania to a franchise that had lost touch with its fan base through the Jail Blazers era.
He moved back to Seattle with his wife, Tiana. Helped out on a weekly radio sports talk show for a while. "I liked it, but I want to be on the sideline," he said, flashing that trademark smile. "I want to be the guy they talk about."
During those four years, Roy spent time with his family, which now includes Brandon Junior, or BJ, 9; Mariah, 5, and baby Brayden, five months. Chilled.
"I disappeared and liked being gone," he has said.
For a while, Roy dabbled in real estate and some financial management.
"That stuff is cool, but it doesn't get to me like driving to the gym for a game or to practice, or being in the locker room," he said Tuesday. "Nothing outside of being a player or coach gets me to feel that way."
Roy has attended only one NBA game since he retired, in Portland three years ago. He and Tiana slipped in quietly to courtside seats at Moda Center after tip-off, slipped out at halftime and didn't return. He hasn't been back since.
"It wasn't just the Blazers," Roy said quietly. "I didn't go to any NBA games. You just miss it. It's like you see your girlfriend, and she's walking around with this new guy. It wasn't anything anybody had done to me. I just felt it was hard to be around the game."
Roy felt that way because he hadn't gone out on his own terms. Injuries had taken away the game he so loved. That was hard to come to grips with. Slowly, he said, that feeling has gone.
"I'm at peace with it now," he said. "Even if my knees got cured tomorrow, I wouldn't go back to the NBA. I've been able to move on.
"BJ wants to start going to games now. I was thinking just the other day, I'll take him down to Portland for a game. I definitely want to come back."
It took awhile for Roy to let go, to get playing basketball out of his system.
"Toward the end, I played in games where I was hurt," he said. "I needed those moments. If I didn't play those games, I may have never played another game.
"I'm at peace with just knowing I gave it all I had in the NBA. I gave it all I had in college and in high school. That's the biggest message I tell these kids: Maximize your opportunities. You never know when they'll be stripped away."
About a year ago, he got the itch to get involved in coaching.
"I've been out of everything for a while, and I thought, 'I think I'm ready to do this every day,' " Roy said. "I finally got the point where I want to do something.
"When I first had to leave basketball, a lot of people cared about me and wanted to see me do something right away. But relaxing was great for me. And then it just hit — I want to do it."
In June, he was offered the job at Nathan Hale, a 20-minute drive from his home in Madison Park in east central Seattle. The Raiders were hardly a powerhouse. They were 3-18 last season.
"When I did my interview, they asked me how long I plan on being there," Roy said. "I said, 'I plan on doing this for a few years. I'm not going anywhere in the immediate future.'"
Roy's annual coaching salary at Nathan Hale is $5,500. He has chosen to divide half of that stipend with his assistant coaches and donate the rest back to the school.
"I'm doing it for the experience, and to be involved in something I enjoy," he said. "I feel like I'm prepared to make an impact and then build my way up. I thought high school was the best level to work on myself and better myself to become a good coach.
"I don't know where it's going to lead, but right now I'm happy. My kids are settled. I don't have to worry about moving them. If I go to the next level, the job is a little more demanding. I'm happy where I'm at right now. It's been a blast."
The Raiders, 6-0 this season, are ranked among the top 20 nationally in at least two polls. They are playing seven transfers, including 6-9 brothers Michael Porter Jr., a senior, and Jontay Porter, a junior. They are sons of Michael Porter Sr., a former assistant coach of the women's team at Missouri who joined Lorenzo Romar's staff on the Washington men's team in May.
Porter Sr. and Romar are close friends. They were teammates with Athletes in Action during their playing days. They were in each other's weddings. Romar is the godfather of Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. is the second-ranked senior in the country. His brother is one of the top-ranked juniors. Porter Sr. has signed with Washington, and his younger brother has made a verbal commitment to the Huskies.
There are charges that Roy took the job knowing that the Porters were part of the deal. That he set about recruiting plenty of blue-chip talent. Roy swears that is not the case.
"There are rules against all of that, and we followed the rules," he said. "A lot of kids want to play for me. I didn't recruit any of them."
The Raiders play fast and hard. They pressure full-court and trap at half-court and get after it at both ends. They shoot a lot of 3's and attack the glass.
The Porters are immense talents. Against a much shorter Central Catholic team, they dominated. Michael Porter Sr. scored 37 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in 24 minutes. His younger brother had 17 points and 13 boards in 21 minutes. Then there is 6-3 freshman MarJon Beauchamp, who had 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 14 minutes against the Rams in his season debut coming off knee surgery.
"The biggest thing for me is getting all these talented players to play together," Roy said. "It's my first experience trying to do that. I tell the guys, 'This is my first year. Whatever we do, let's do it together.' ="
Roy's coaching demeanor is calm. Not once did he get off the bench during the Central Catholic game, except for timeouts or quarter breaks.
"After the games, we try to teach a lot," he said. "During the game, especially when we have big leads, I don't want them always looking at me to see what's going on. The games are about them, not me."
Roy wishes he were still playing in the NBA.
"Yeah, I miss it," he said. "You miss the overall pageantry of it. You miss being a star player, being the guy who made the last-second shot, and hearing the fans cheer for you. You miss coming back from an injury and running out of the locker room and everybody's going crazy, and you're on the big screen. You miss those things.
"But I've done a good job of putting them behind me. I get with my team, and I have to put my focus on these guys. Walking in, I'm not Brandon Roy the player. I'm the coach of this team. I'm here for these guys."
Roy is one of the most beloved players in Trail Blazers history.
"I have that same affection for those fans," he said. "We always had that connection. They supported me through everything. I felt like they were like an extended family. Everybody made me feel that way from Day One when I came here.
"It's like the feeling I get when I come down here now. I drive past the Rose Garden, and it brings back so many memories just driving down the street. We had some amazing times. The crowd and those moments."
A year ago, Brandon and Tiana were in Portland for the entire run of the Les Schwab Invitational, strictly to watch his alma mater, Garfield High of Seattle, participate.
"That's why I decided to play here this year," he said. "They wanted us to go to the City of Palms Tournament in Florida, but I'm in charge of scheduling. I wanted to bring my team to Portland to play. I wanted them to experience a little bit of what I experienced as a player here."
Brandon Roy has come full circle. He's back in the game. They are two different levels, high school ball and the NBA. Now he's back on the court as a coach, and it's easy to see why. He's enjoying the hell out of it.