First-year Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy still has to pinch himself sometimes.
One of those “pinch-me” moments comes when he picks up his phone to call some Hall of Famers for in-depth basketball discussion, advice, or just to chat.
The first-year Jazz head coach suffers from imposter syndrome occasionally, he said on Saturday.
“I do think of myself as the same guy that I was when I was 18. Like I’m from Richmond, Va., I played Division III basketball,” Hardy said.
“If you had told me then that I would, you know, be able to call Gregg Popovich or Becky Hammon or Manu (Ginobili) or Tim Duncan or Tony Parker on the phone and they would pick up and like know who I am, it’s really kind of mind-bending,” Hardy said.
Popovich, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Hammon — Hardy has worked with all of them, starting as a video coordinator with the Spurs in 2011 before being promoted to assistant coach in 2016, a position he held until 2021-22, when he left to be an assistant for the Boston Celtics, who went to the NBA Finals that season.
“He’s ridiculously intelligent and he’s a hard worker. He started out at the bottom in the film room and it was pretty apparent very quickly that he understood everything that we coaches wanted,” Popovich said before Saturday’s game in Utah.
On Saturday, he was coaching against Popovich, his former boss and one of the greatest coaches of all time.
“He was a pretty impressive individual from the get-go. So I put him out on the court quickly with the guys and found that he commanded respect very quickly just by being himself and teaching,” Popovich said.
“He’s got a good wry sense of humor that he uses. Slowly fell in love with the guy and he matriculated to the bench and showed that he understood the game and made suggestions that were meaningful.”
Hardy can get fired up when he needs to, but usually has a calm demeanor on the sidelines, something that the famously fiery Popovich said he could take from Hardy.
“He doesn’t say much unless he thinks he needs to. He’s got a great temperament, much better than mine and actually learned from him in a lot of those situations, as much or more than he learned from me. He was kind of a no-brainer from the beginning, to be honest with you,” Popovich said.
Reflecting on working with and learning from some of the NBA’s most legendary figures, Hardy just feels lucky to have been part of their lives.
“It’s just another very blatant reminder of how spoiled and lucky I am and have been in my basketball life to have been around the level of coaches, the level of players that I have been. It’s surreal,” Hardy said. “It’s just fun to have been like a blip on the radar in their journey. Like to have been in the room with them or on the court with them for some of those moments is really cool.”
“It’s another pinch-me moment in what continues to be, for me, kind of a pinch-me basketball life.”