By Jamie Thomas
“He’s a well-respected G-League Coach and I’m sure an opportunity in the NBA is going to come soon.”
Chris Finch’s talent for coaching at the highest level is well-known and rightly lauded, but perhaps he should be praised more for his prophetic talents as the above were words he uttered when we discussed GB Men’s Head Coach Nate Reinking with him in the Spring.
Fast forward to last week as news breaking of Reinking being promoted to the Cleveland Cavaliers bench as an Assistant Coach proved the Timberwolves play-caller’s prophecy correct. The GB legend will now test himself at the highest level as part of JB Bickerstaff’s staff alongside his national team duties.
We spoke to Reinking – and his predecessors as GB and NBA coaches Finch and Joe Prunty – recently about his incredible legacy, what sets him apart as a coach, former player and de-facto ambassador of revered status for Great Britain Basketball and why an opportunity in the NBA was always a possibility.
“I’ve been involved with the GB programme for so long that it has become part of me, it is in my DNA now,” Reinking said. “It was something I really committed to when Chris Finch led the programme in 2006 and my commitment never wavered, so seeing that succeed and reaching the level it did at the Olympics was the ultimate for me as a player and the pinnacle of my career.
“I saw that opportunity to play at the highest level that I could, and GB gave me that opportunity. When I finished playing, I wasn’t sure whether I would be a coach or not, but I knew I would stay around the game and when the opportunity came up with Coach Prunty when he took over that just started me off on my journey.
“I wanted to reach out to Coach Prunty to see if he needed any help, not with anything in mind to say I wanted to coach, but just to help him get settled in. I wanted to be involved somehow, some way, and a slot happened to open for me on his staff, and I just ran with it.”
‘He was such a winner and a warrior‘
Finch and Prunty both unsurprisingly gave glowing endorsements of Reinking’s qualities from a variety of perspectives, and Prunty – who has coached with distinction at every elite level of the game – spoke with energetic pride about the work Reinking has done during his tenure with GB Basketball, both as a player and coach on his staff and now as Head Coach of his nation.
“Nate has been involved constantly since the mid-2000s and that in itself says a lot about his commitment to the programme and what it means for him to see it grow and evolve,” he said. “I’m extremely proud and I think there’s a lot of things that people don’t know Nate does behind the scenes.
“People will watch games and say they know exactly what happened there with their team, but I can tell you from experience there is so much going on behind the scenes that people don’t see. Those things play a role in how the games play out and are just as important as the games themselves.
“We all want GB to have success and that’s one of the things that Nate has really taken to heart. You can’t question that. He’s been in the programme for the last 15-20 years, under very different circumstances. The programme didn’t start in this spot, and Nate has helped it get better and better and better for the longest time as a player, a coach and now a head coach.”
In a Spring conversation with Reinking following the qualification of his side’s for FIBA EuroBasket 2022, it was put to Reinking that his former mentors had expressed confidence he would one day grace the benches of the NBA. His response was typically modest and understated.
“To hear that from them and get a compliment like that is unbelievable,” the 47-year-old said. “I haven’t set the NBA as a goal, I am just trying to get better every season as a coach and I know many, many people that I look up to as unbelievable coaches and see them as deserving of an opportunity to be in the NBA.
“I’m just lucky to be in the business, have a job, take care of my family and Cleveland is home to me, so to be a part of it in this way is amazing for me.”
‘In my mind that was the ideal way to move forward‘
Turning to GB’s most recent major success in qualifying for FIBA EuroBasket 2022, Reinking’s influence and leadership as Head Coach in putting the right building blocks in place served as a fundamental cornerstone of the nation’s triumph in reaching another major tournament.
The most fundamental aspect of GB Men’s victories in recent times though must surely be cohesion: between a core group of players united by their desire to win for each other, and a dedicated group of staff assembled by Reinking that would all run through brick walls for each other. The Head Coach delves deeper into the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“We’re in constant conversations throughout the year, tracking all of our talent whether they’re currently on the roster or have potential to be for the future. We discuss certain strategies on who we’re going up against in windows and a playbook to fit our guys, but these windows are so short its almost a case of less is more.
“We really focus on getting the chemistry right and putting together a group of guys that buy into each other and want to win for each other, and that is the most important thing really, because it is the players who have to go out there and deliver.”
“In Marc (Steutel), Jamie (Smith) and Andreas (Kapoulas), they’re three guys I know, trust and enjoy working with. They wear their hearts on their sleeves for the programme, have been involved for many years and love doing it. Those are the types of people you want involved and have played a huge part in our success.”
With Reinking delegating coaching responsibilities to his support staff whilst Canton Charge duties had prevented him from travelling to be with GB during the most recent qualification windows, Steutel as acting head coach and Smith and Kapoulas as assistants, stepped up to deliver their leader’s philosophies and ideas.
Adopting a similar philosophy to USA Basketball, where Gregg Popovich designates an Acting Head Coach for qualifiers during the NBA season, Reinking discussed the benefits of the model and why it had been something considered by GB as an option some years prior.
“It is what it is with the FIBA windows, it is a huge challenge for nations across the world,” he added. “And even when I was part of the programme under Coach Prunty we had discussed a model where he would be the Head Coach overseeing everything whilst coaching in the NBA and I would be leading the camps, but it never quite materialised.
“In my mind that was the ideal way to move forward, so I’ve taken that on board coming in as Head Coach and Coach Steutel has done a fantastic job. I’m just happy that we’re continuing an upward trajectory, but this success is ultimately down to the players sticking together at their core, taking accountability and responsibility, and teams like that are the greatest ones.
“I want to help them in any way they can take the sport to where we all want it to be. We want to consistently be competing against the best and in the long term that can only breed support from across the country for GB, generating more interest, more and even better talent both on and off the court.”
The next step on that journey isn’t far away. GB host Greece (25 November) and travel to Turkey (28 November) in their opening round of FIBA World Cup 2023 Qualification.
Another chance to take a step forward.