Ahearn’s New Job Highlights Spurs’ Development Approach

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By Jonas Clark

Development is the essential foundation of the G-League, not just for players, but coaches and broadcasters as well, and often comes with the cost of change.  When the Austin Spurs take the court next season, it will be with a change at head coach, as the Memphis Grizzlies announced their hiring of Blake Ahearn on Saturday on their website.

“The Grizzlies have hired Blake Ahearn, who leaves his spot as head coach of the Austin Spurs, the G-League affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs. With the Grizzlies, among other duties, Ahearn will participate in player development efforts, including shooting development.”

The hiring of Ahearn by Memphis comes just two weeks after the G-League’s official cancellation of the rest of the 2019-2020 season on June 4th, and it is a solid hire for the young Grizzlies.

After making the switch from playing to coaching after the 2014 season, Blake Ahearn went the coaching route, starting with high schools for two seasons before receiving the Austin Spurs head coaching job ahead of the 2017 season. No stranger to the D-League (as the G-League was named prior to that season), Ahearn first started his professional career with the Dakota Wizards in 2008 and ended it on a title win with the Santa Cruz Warriors in 2015.

In Austin, he could relate with the players’ journey, because he’d been there. Jeff Ledbetter told the San Antonio Express-News last summer, “He [Ahearn] has done this whole G League grind,” Ledbetter said. “He knows how we feel. He knows what we are going through. His communication skills are fresh out of playing. He can still relate to us a lot. The relationships he has built with us are genuine, organic, real.” 

Ahearn’s coaching development started as high as it could, guiding a Derrick White-led Austin Spurs to a NBA G-League title in his first season. Over the next two seasons, he compiled a 76-66 record, and while Austin missed the playoffs in 2019, a 2020 postseason was theirs to lose before the season canceled altogether.

For a developmental coach, the wins aren’t necessarily measured in wins, but rather the progress made within the individuals so they can be evaluated for what contributions they can make at the next level. In a team element, how does the individual execute their assignments?; On a personal level, do their mechanics and mentality show progress, but also that they’re receptive to being coached?

As Austin GM, Landry Fields, noted in the first episode of the team’s Growing Ground series (my thoughts on it HERE), the success of guys like Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV – even Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes – set a precedent for the Spurs approach to send their picks to Austin first. The franchise must be noting measurable growth from these individuals due to their G-League experience, and part of that equation, at least for Derrick and Lonnie, has been Blake Ahearn.

With the 2019 rookies, as well as Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks all seeing considerable time in Austin this last season, San Antonio looks to benefit as Coach Ahearn’s impact continues to grow, and will for years to come. For Austin, there will be a change next year, whether an assistant gets promoted (looking at Coach Petar Božić), or an external hire is made.

For Blake Ahearn, the Spurs family couldn’t be happier to see another program coach continue their journey in the NBA. That’s another notch of success for the development being done in Austin.

Is there anyone you’d like to see the Spurs pursue to fill the Austin coaching position? (R.C.’s son Chase just coached the Bucks’ affiliate Herd to the best record FYI) Do you think the Austin Spurs will continue their development success without Ahearn? Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter @JarkClonas or through @ProjectSpurs.

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