Arizona Basketball

Unknown Arizona Wildcats connection alive in NBA playoffs

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Arizona Wildcats followers know of Andre Iguodala in the NBA playoffs with the Golden State Warriors, and Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett watching from the bench of their respective teams, Indiana and Oklahoma City.

Have you heard of Arizona alum and Tucson native Jesse Mermuys of the Toronto Raptors?

Mermuys, in his first year as a Raptors assistant coach, is under the radar as far as Wildcat followers are concerned because he never was an assistant at Arizona.

Mermuys, 34, was Arizona’s director of basketball operations from 2006-08. He then worked with the Denver Nuggets for four seasons, the first as a video coordinator in 2008-09. After two seasons as an advance scout, Mermuys was elevated by Nuggets coach George Karl to be an assistant in 2011-12.

Mermuys was a member of Kevin McHale’s staff in Houston last season, serving as assistant coach and director of player development. The rivalry with ASU did not get in the way with Mermuys spending a lot of time working individually with James Harden last year.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey was impressed by Mermuys’ sessions with established players. That was a significant reason why Casey hired him before this season.


“Jesse did a good job not only in Denver, but also with James Harden in Houston,” Casey was quoted as saying by NBA.com. “He has a good relationship with players.”

Jeremy Lin with an Arizona shirt provided by former Houston assistant Jesse Mermuys (Jeremy Lin blog photo)

Jeremy Lin with an Arizona shirt provided by former Houston assistant Jesse Mermuys (Jeremy Lin blog photo)

When Mermuys was hired by Lute Olson in 2006, he told ArizonaWildcats.com: “Obviously, this is a dream job at my dream school. This is good as it gets for me on the college level.”

Shortly thereafter, the Olson leave of absence and retirement phase occurred and Mermuys opted for the stable job with the Nuggets.

He got his start in coaching as the head freshman and varsity assistant coach at Salpointe Catholic High School from 2001-03. During the 2003-04 season, Mermuys was an assistant coach at Pima Community College. Mermuys also served as the camp director for the Luke Walton/Richard Jefferson basketball camp at this stage of his development.

He served as the video coordinator at New Mexico State briefly in 2006 before moving back to Tucson for the Arizona job. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at Southern Utah University during the 2005-06 season.

The Toronto Sun published an article two weeks ago crediting Mermuys and the other Raptors assistants, including former UNLV coach Bill Bayno, as the unsung heroes of the team’s success. Toronto has a 3-2 lead over Brooklyn in the best-of-seven series after losing the first game at home.

“Jesse and Bayno? Their energy has been great,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry told the Sun. “Their enthusiasm and pushing everybody to keep being aggressive and shooting shots and making sure that even if they miss a few, it don’t matter, just keep going.”

Sun reporter Mike Ganter notes: “Bayno and Mermuys are tireless developers, willing to go to the gym at any hour of the day or night to get a player some extra work.”

Mermuys is on the right path to becoming a head coach either in college or in the NBA. Some notable coaches in college and NBA never played college basketball, including Lawrence Frank (eight-year NBA coach), Mike Fratello (17-year NBA coach), Indiana’s Tom Crean, Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and NAU’s Jack Murphy, who like Mermuys was a director of basketball operations at Arizona.

Murphy and Mermuys worked together with the Nuggets in 2008-09 before Murphy left to join former Arizona player and coach Josh Pastner at Memphis.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.



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