Men’s basketball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics got started in early hours on Sunday for fans in the United States. Before Keldon Johnson and Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich took the court, two others with Spurs ties hit the hardwood – Patty Mills and Matt Nielsen. Mills, of course, is a veteran leader with the Spurs; the head assistant coach for Australia, Nielsen, is maybe less known to most fans.
Promoted last November to be the new head coach of the Austin Spurs, Nielsen has roots with the organization going back to the 2014-15 season. He served as a player development assistant for that year, and an assistant coach with the team in the Summer League from 2014-2019. Nielsen was an assistant coach under former coach Blake Ahearn for the 2019-2020 season prior to getting the promotion last fall.
Coaching in the G League’s Orlando bubble this past February, Nielsen coached a strong Austin team that featured Luka Samanic, Tre Jones, Cam Reynolds, and the Kings’ Robert Woodard II early in the tournament qualifiers. With most of the top talent being recalled to the NBA, the team battled but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Delaware Blue Coats. Austin led the G League in field goal percentage, with top-five finishes in scoring, assists, steals, and three-point percentage.
“The interaction with the Boomer program and the Spurs has a long history,” Nielsen said in a promotional release, “and I’m forever grateful that they allow me to go down this path at the same time. I feel like with the coaching staff here being fantastic, helping me along the way in my path but also supporting me in a kinda funny dynamic, it’s pretty cool, and I’m very grateful.”
From playing for the Australian Men's National Basketball Team at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics to becoming the Boomers' Head Assistant Coach…#AustinSpurs Head Coach Matt Nielsen talks about his journey as the #TokyoOlympics begin ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/CFFZ6ZgyPw
— Austin Spurs (@austin_spurs) July 23, 2021
Australia’s national team features a strong amount of NBA talent, including Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Matisse Thybulle Philadelphia 76ers), Dante Exum (Cleveland Cavaliers), and Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers). Of course, San Antonio fans are familiar with Mills and former Spur Aron Baynes (Toronto Raptors). Nielsen played with Mills on the national team from 1997-2012, appearing with Mills in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
“Watching Patty as a young fella that took the world on in Beijing… to now the experienced veteran with so much passion… I think is a really amazing thing to watch that progression. I think he’s doing a fantastic job and is super locked in on this one. I think great things are going to happen for him.”
Things have certainly started great for Nielsen, Mills, and the Boomers; Australia won their first matchup in Group B against Nigeria 84-67, securing the victory with a strong fourth quarter. Mills led all players with 25 points in 34 minutes of action. Australia won their second game over Italy 86-83. Mills finished with 16 points in the game.
Australia’s next game is on Saturday, July 31 against Germany in the Group B preliminaries.