Toronto Raptors: A Complete Coaching Changeover

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Toronto Raptors: A Complete Coaching Changeover
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This offseason the Toronto Raptors announced:

  • On May 11, 2009, Jay Triano has signed a three-year contract as head coach.
  • On June 5, 2009, the hiring of Marc Iavaroni and Alex English as assistant coaches.
  • On July 1, 2009, the addition of Eric Hughes, Alvin Williams, and Francesco Cuzzolin as assistant coaches.

And you thought the fans would need a program to recognize the players this season. 

There are four new faces on the Raptors coaching staff this season and only one assistant coach returning to the same job as last season. Just in case you missed last season, or are trying hard to forget, the head coach from opening day has changed too!

 

Jay Triano

Jay Triano of Niagara Falls, Ontario is the NBA's first Canadian born and trained head coach.  Taking over from Sam Mitchell as interim head coach on Dec. 3, 2008, Colangelo removed the interim tag on May 11 of this year with a new three-year contract.

Growing up, Triano wasn’t just a one sport athlete. He was a member of the 1974 Canadian Champion Niagara Falls' Lions Midget Baseball Team and in college he played for the Simon Fraser University Clansmen in basketball and in football.

And Triano wasn’t just a good player; he led the S.F.U. Clansmen basketball team in scoring all four seasons and set 11 school records. Simon Fraser University Athletics honored Triano by retiring his No. 12 jersey, the first jersey number retired by that school.

In a testament to his athletic abilities, after graduating in 1981, Triano was drafted by both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

Triano played basketball for the Canadian national team from 1978-1988 and represented Canada at three Olympic Games. He has also represented Canada at the World University Games four times, winning gold in 1983 and a bronze in 1985.

Keeping his basketball prospects alive, Jay also played for Brewster-Heights Packing in Washington and was part of their A.A.U. National championship teams in 1985, 1987, and 1988. In Ontario, Jay played for the 1985 Canadian Senior Mens' Championship Team.

Triano started his coaching career at Simon Fraser University as an assistant in 1985 and he took over as their head coach from 1988-1995. Triano also was an assistant coach on Canada’s National team in 1992 and from 1998-2004 he was their head coach.

In 2007, Triano was selected by USA Basketball to serve as an assistant coach of the USA Basketball Select Team and in 2009 he was chosen to head the staff for its summer mini-training camp.

In 2002, under then head coach Lenny Wilkins, Jay Triano joined the Raptors where he has survived for seven seasons under a plethora of GM’s and head coaches to finally earn the head coaching spot for himself.

 

Marc Iavaroni

One of the Toronto Raptors’ new assistant coaches that fans may remember from brief appearances with the team last season is Marc Iavaroni. At the time, Ivaroni was busy providing consulting services to various teams. Translated, he was scouting for a job after being let go by the Memphis Grizzles.

Ivaroni started coaching as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Virginia in 1981 and then as an assistant coach at Bowling Green State from 1992-1994.

More recently, Iavaroni had two years of NBA head coaching experience with the Grizzles and spent five seasons as an assistant with the Suns from 2002-2007, most of it while Bryan Colangelo was the GM. He has also been an assistant with Cleveland and Miami. It has been reported that Iavaroni is a good defense oriented coach and owes much to his 22-year association with Hall-of-Fame coach Pete Newell.

Iavaroni played four years of collegiate ball with Virginia. A part of Virginia’s 1976 ACC tournament championship team, he was honoured as a first-team tournament player.

Between 1982-1989, Iavaroni played in the NBA for Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Utah with modest stats across all categories. Iavaroni also played a total of five seasons in Italy and Spain.

Jay Triano and Marc Iavaroni are no strangers to each other having worked together in recent years at summer camps in Europe.

There is no question that Marc Iavaroni brings a lot of creditable coaching experience to this year’s staff.

 

Alvin Williams

The Villanova Wildcats standout, Alvin Williams, was the Trail Blazers 47th pick of the 1997 NBA Draft. The 6'5" 185 pound guard averaged 17 PPG in his senior season and started every game for the Wildcats in his final two seasons.

Alvin Williams was traded to the Raptors during his rookie season on Feb. 13, 1998 for Damon Stoudamire. Williams promptly went on the injured list five days later after undergoing minor arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Injury problems plagued Williams and in an interesting twist of fate, a trade to Boston in February 2000 was rescinded on medical grounds.

Becoming a very popular Raptor, Williams' best years were from 2000-2003 when he averaged 11.6 points, three rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.5 steals in 33 minutes missing only four games over those three seasons. Williams was a key team leader during the Raptors' first three seasons making the playoffs.

On Nov. 22, 2004, Alvin Williams had micro-fracture surgery on his right knee effectively ending his career. Two years later, under difficult circumstances, the Raptors released him.

This will be Williams' first foray into coaching since he ended his NBA playing career. At the relatively young age of 35, fans still remember and appreciate his contributions as a player. Also, he should be able to relate well to the younger guys on the Raptors' roster. 

As a former defensive minded point guard, he should be able to help the Raptors' guards in this area.

Alvin Williams rejoins the team as an assistant coach/basketball development.

 

Francesco Cuzzolin

Francesco Cuzzolin has a very different background from what one might normally expect in a NBA strength and conditioning coach and Toronto looks to be fortunate in luring someone of his background to North America.

The president of the European Physical Conditioning Association and a professor at the University of Padua in Italy, Cuzzolin has been working with professional and National basketball teams for years.

Cuzzolin has an unusually broad and varied background, as he spent 12 seasons with Benetton Treviso in the Italian Serie A League, three summers with the Russian National Team, the Rbk European Big Man Camp, and has experience working with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers during their summer training camps.

Cuzzolin has already traveled across North America and Europe to meet with Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh, Andrea Barnani, Rasho Nesterovic, and Hedo Turkoglu and has plans to create individualized work out regimes for each Raptor player.

An excellent interview with Cuzzolin is presented by Mario Cagnetta, at Tandem-Online magazine. I strongly recommend anyone who is interested in the strength and conditioning issues surrounding basketball, or just wants to get to know the new Raptors assistant coach better, to give it a read (Guaranteeing Raptors are in top shape).

 

Eric Hughes

Eric Hughes, age 44, returns for his third season with the club, but his first as an assistant coach.

Hughes played for Cal State Hayward on a NCAA Division II squad that twice won Northern California Athletic Conference titles. There he also earned a Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education.

He got his start in coaching in 1990 as an Illinois State graduate assistant where he earned his Athletic Administration Master's Degree in 1991.

On May 12, 1993, Hughes joined the Washington Huskies' coaching staff and became a full-time assistant coach in June 1997. After initially coaching centers, Hughes started working primarily with the Huskies’ wing players. The Washington Huskies say, "In 1998, Hughes was pivotal in the Huskies first run to the Sweet 16 since 1984."

From 2002-2006, Hughes was the Spokane Community College head coach in Washington. There he led the Bigfoot’s to the Eastern Region championship in 2005 and 2006 and was named Eastern Region Coach of the Year each time.

Hughes also became the director of summer player development for Goodwin Sports Management in Seattle and created workout programs for a number of current NBA players.

It is expected that Hughes will continue to work with the Raptors’ players in the development of their on-court skills.

 

Alex English

Hall-of-Fame player, Alex English joined the Raptors on June 7, 2004 as an assistant coach and has been an important stabilizing influence ever since.

English averaged 21.5 PPG over a 15-year NBA career. He was an eight-time All-Star and the 1982-83 NBA scoring leader. His prior coaching experience was as an assistant with Atlanta in 2002-03 and with the Philadelphia in 2003-04. He was a NBADL head coach in 2001-02 for North Charleston.

 

Micah Nori

Micah Nori was a former Indiana Hoosiers baseball standout from 1994-1997. After graduation, Nori worked as a graduate assistant for the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks in 1998 and later as the Redhawk's hitting coach.

Mica Nori first joined the Raptors as an advance scout in 1999 following the completion of the Redhawks season, but Nori returned as a Hoosiers' assistant baseball coach the next season. He continued to work with the Hoosiers and was named their hitting coach in 2005, not leaving the Hoosiers until after 2006.

In September 2003, Doug Smith reported Micah Nori finalizing plans for his "new role" as a Raptors' advanced scout. Last summer, Raptors announced him as director of NBA scouting. According to the July 1, 2009 Raptors' press release about Eric Hughes, Alvin Williams, and Francesco Cuzzolin (and on the Raptors' Web site management list); Micah Nori has now obtained the title of assistant coach.

Not sure where the official announcement for this "promotion" got to, but I’d guess he’ll still be doing the advance game scouting for the rest of the Raptors’ coaching staff. However, Bob Zuffelato is listed as "Scout" (perhaps I just missed it?).

 

Coaches and Assistants

Just taking a quick look at the backgrounds of the staff that Bryan Colangelo and Jay Triano have assembled, it's easy to see that this is a very diverse group of people. A Hall-of-Fame player, international experience, multi-sport backgrounds, scouting, college coaching, National program, NBA head coaching experience, and a Canadian.

In a recent interview, Triano was asked if he was picking coaches with their backgrounds in mind to fill certain needs. Triano kind of blew off the question, but it looks like a lot of work has gone into creating the new Raptors’ coaching staff.

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