LAS VEGAS — Back in March, the Utah Jazz were in Dallas, the second stop of a five-city, six-game road trip. Head coach Will Hardy was at dinner with some of his coaching staff when assistant coaches Evan Bradds and Sean Sheldon started discussing the plans for the summer schedule with Hardy.

“I was so nervous. I probably got up and sat back down about a million times too many. So if I do that a little less next game that’ll probably help.” — Utah Jazz assistant coach Evan Bradds

Naturally, the topic of Summer League was a part of the discussion and when the conversation moved in that direction, Bradds told Hardy, with no hesitation, that he wanted to coach the Utah Jazz’s Summer League squad.

“He told me that I could do it,” Bradds said. “So it’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of fun, a lot different. Obviously, it’s been a blessing and something that I’ve always wanted to do. The nerves are still there. Sometimes my head’s spinning out there — probably a little too emotional at times but you know, it’s getting better. It’s getting more fun as we go so that’s a good thing.”

Prior to becoming the Jazz’s Summer League head coach, Bradds had a little bit of a warmup when he coached during the NBA combine in Chicago last May. Though, that coaching stint didn’t necessarily go as planned.

Team Bradds lost both of its games at the combine and was trailing by 30 in the first game before cutting the opponent’s lead to 19 in the end. At the time, Hardy was on hand watching the game and laughing at his assistant for losing by such a wide margin. The friendly ribbing from those closest to Bradds hasn’t stopped.

“I have that picture on my phone of Team Bradds being down 94-64,” Bradds said with a laugh. “I feel like that’s the true test of real friends is when they don’t let stuff die when you want it to. So a lot of my friends still remind me of that.”

But don’t think it’s just the other coaches that enjoy roasting Bradds.

“He’s my player development coach, so we always see each other every day, so it’s gonna be fun having him as a coach,” Ochai Agbaji said. “I actually watched him coach at the combine. They lost, so I was giving him some crap. That’s kind of fun.”

But all the jokes and jabs come from a place of love.

Bradds, brought over to the Jazz from the Boston Celtics when Hardy was hired, has been the coach closest to Agbaji throughout his rookie season and now heading into Agbaji’s second year.

Bradds has also spent a significant amount of time with the other players, including two-way player Johnny Juzang, who is on the Summer League squad with Agbaji. Having players that he feels comfortable with gives Bradds confidence on the sidelines. And on the other side, when players like Agbaji and Juzang are seen communicating and working well with Bradds, it puts the Jazz’s rookie players and others at ease too.

Bradds admits that he has nerves before every game, but none so much as the Jazz’s first game of the Salt Lake City Summer League, a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Delta Center. 

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“I was nervous and then I walked out and the whole lower bowl was full, so that didn’t help at all,” he said with a chuckle. “I was so nervous. I probably got up and sat back down about a million times too many. So if I do that a little less next game that’ll probably help.”

At one point during that game, while pacing the sideline, Bradds tripped and fell into the courtside seats. It just so happened that he ended up falling into a sitting position right next to Hardy and assistant coach Chad Forcier.

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“It was a little weird, because I’m used to being the one in the back yelling at him,” Bradds said of Hardy watching from courtside seats. “But it was cool. I mean, just to see him sitting there, the support that, not just me, but the whole staff and the players have is awesome.”

After struggling to find some chemistry through the SLC Summer League, going 1-2, the Jazz found a rhythm once they got to the Las Vegas Summer League, going 3-0 in their first three games.

While development, growth, experimentation and showcasing talent for the whole league to see are the main priorities in Summer League, it’s not lost on the players that there is something to play for. At the end of the Las Vegas Summer League, one team will be crowned the Summer League champion, and the Jazz see it as a possibility.

“I think that’s everyone’s goal,” Agbaji said. “Even before we started in Salt Lake the goal was to just win through Summer League and just win for Bradds.”

Utah Jazz Summer League head coach Evan Bradds gives a thumbs-up to the players during a game against Oklahoma City in Summer League action at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 3, 2023. Jazz lost 95-85. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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