As the momentum shifts in their favor midway through the second quarter, Austin Spurs center Amida Brimah rotates and leaps to stop South Bay Lakers guard Alex Caruso at the rim.
A stoic Blake Ahearn goes from calm to infuriated in a matter of moments as Brimah gets called for the defensive foul. It’s the second questionable call in a row by this officiating crew that benefits the Lakers.
As expletives colorfully filled Ahearn’s discussion with an official, one thing is for sure, his temperament and attention to detail is similar to his San Antonio counterpart.
But Blake Ahearn isn’t Gregg Popovich.
What Ahearn does possess is the same work ethic, intensity and values that come instilled into everyone who passes through San Antonio.
“Being a point guard, I’ve always considered myself a coach,” Ahearn told Project Spurs. “Just doing little things from drawing on a board to being in charge and managing a whole bunch of different things. I try to be a student of the game wherever I go.”
As the third quarter comes to a close, the Spurs are down a point to the Lakers.
“When there’s that type of atmosphere it’s kind of contagious.” – Blake Ahearn
Seeking their first lead of the game, Brimah muscles his way into the paint to follow up the thunderous dunk he had on the previous possession.
Instead, he’s called for an offensive foul and immediately replaced by former first round draft pick Livio Jean-Charles.
Ahearn gives him a tap, but hardly acknowledges Brimah’s existence as the former UConn big man walks to the bench.
Instead, it’s San Antonio Spurs two-way contract player Matt Costello who gets up and stops Brimah to give him pointers and encouragement.
“They don’t wanna hear from me all the time,” Ahearn said. “Coach’s voice can get tired at some points and we got a lot of guys like that. It’s a group effort.”
Teammates coaching each other for the benefit of the organization is a bit of a rarity in the G League.
In a league where a chance at the NBA is dependent on a player’s individual performance, Ahearn has fostered a culture of togetherness and team building that San Antonio has thrived on for decades.
“When there’s that type of atmosphere it’s kind of contagious,” Ahearn said. “We see it with San Antonio. Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker)…different veteran guys doing it. That’s what we’re doing here. We didn’t ask them to do it, they have done it themselves which is great.”
Despite finishing the third quarter on an 18-4 run, the Austin Spurs find themselves on the verge of another blowout loss to the Lakers.
As Ahearn empties his bench to end the game, he doesn’t seem to let the outcome bother him.
Poor shooting and turnovers will doom any team on any given night. But he also has a built-in reason for the loss, as Costello and Darrun Hilliard sat out Saturday’s contest after spending the afternoon practicing in San Antonio.
This will be Austin’s third loss of the season, and their second loss while facing the Lakers with a short-handed roster.
Ahearn can’t control when Costello and Hilliard are called up to San Antonio, but he understands the mutually beneficial relationship. The best coaches prepare for every scenario and the best players seize every opportunity.
No one understands that better than Ahearn, as his list of transactions from being called up or assigned to the G League reads like a training manual.
“This league is all about opportunities to give some other guys a chance to step up,” Ahearn said. “In that respect, you have to look at it like that. The league is always changing, so you never know what’s going to happen. You have to be prepared for it.”
Even after suffering a blowout loss, the postgame atmosphere around the locker room is nurturing.
“I’m very fortunate to be around great guys, great players, and a great coaching staff.”
Coach Ahearn and his staff sit inside the green room discussing strategy, life, and everything in between. Everyone’s input and opinion is as valuable as the person next to them.
Like San Antonio, Austin’s front office subscribes to the same theory of the more perspectives, the better. And communication between Austin and San Antonio is just as vital to day-to-day operations as it is to the big picture.
“From the beginning they’ve said whenever you need something, just ask,” Ahearn said. “They’ve done a great job of being available for me and having the chance to talk to them. We know we both got busy schedules and different things like that, but they’re always available for us which is great.”
Sustained greatness in the G League is difficult to achieve with the constant evolution of rules and roster fluidity. But it’s only a matter of time before Coach Ahearn’s tenure restores Austin to its championship aspirations.
Austin’s logo, team colors, uniforms and culture all emulate the principles that San Antonio built their successes upon.
But, “The Spurs Way” you hear referenced inside every corner of the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park is more than just a soundbite or cliché motivational tool.
The I-35 rivalry between Austin and San Antonio is one thing, but when it comes to basketball, San Antonio will do anything it takes to bring success to Austin.
“To be able to come here, in the professional ranks, and have a group like San Antonio who extends the every resource they can…I’m very fortunate to be around great guys, great players, and a great coaching staff,” Ahearn said.
Well, almost anything.
“I’m just waiting for them to send Kawhi (Leonard) or somebody down here to play.”