Former Maryland basketball star Steve Blake was about eight years into his 13-year NBA career when he began thinking about his post-playing career.
As his playing career wound down, Blake took part in National Basketball Players Association programs to learn about his options once he retired. He began coaching his kids' AAU teams after retiring, and this past season, Blake served as a coaching intern with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Blake, 39, was hired by the Phoenix Suns as an assistant coach in June. He'll work alongside head coach Monty Williams, who was hired in May after the Suns went 19-63 during the 2018-19 season.
"It's always something I thought about. It really interested me. I never knew when it would start, but this opportunity arose and I had to jump on it," Blake said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Aug. 22, adding that "it just felt right. It felt like the right thing to do, and I couldn't see myself doing anything else."
Blake explained he played in a number of different offensive systems during his career, all of which he can draw from as a coach; for example, he played in Mike D'Antoni's high-octane, up-tempo system with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2012-2014. But the experiences Blake draws from the most as a coach date back to his college days under Gary Williams.
Blake played for Maryland from 1999-2003, reaching the Final Four in 2001 and winning the national championship in 2002. Blake won 103 games during his four years with the Terps. What did Blake learn from Williams that he took with him to the NBA?
"Just understanding I've got to be ready every single second I come on the court and then also ready to give 110 percent with my effort the second I step on the court," Blake said. "He expected that from us every single time and it just got ingrained in myself. That's the way I am not only as a player but as a coach as well. I'm just ready to go from the second you get out there."
"He made us have a no-fear mentality no matter what situation we were in, who we were playing," Blake added. "We didn't fear any of that. The players I played with, they all had different personalities, but when we got on the court we were all one cohesive unit. So we all had a great impact on each other on and off the court."
The Suns are led by forward Devin Booker, 22, who averaged 26.6 points and 6.8 assists last year. Booker is joined by center DeAndre Ayton, 21, who was the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds during his rookie year. The Suns' young core also includes 23-year-old forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds). Phoenix added North Carolina wing Cameron Johnson and Virginia guard Ty Jerome in the 2019 draft.
The Suns picked up veterans Ricky Rubio (12.7 points, 6.1 assists), Dario Saric (10.6 points, 5.6 rebounds) and Aron Baynes (5.6 points, 4.7 rebounds) to help their young roster grow.
"Management made some great changes for our roster this year," Blake said. "Ricky Rubio is an ultimate point guard -- pass-first guy who's going to create and make guys have fun while they're out there on the court. And we have a couple guys who are going to require a double team in Booker and DeAndre Ayton, so I think we're surrounding those guys with players who can help us win now."
Blake also touched on a few Terps topics...
On his favorite memory at Maryland aside from winning the national title:
"It's more the relationships, really. Basketball's great, everyone knows all about that, but the relationships we built as friends off the court -- you live with guys for years in close quarters, you spend time hanging out together for years on end. You just develop a bond and a relationship that lasts for a lifetime. We still keep in touch. We still talk. Even if it has been a year, when we get together it's like we've been together every day. So just the relationships for me is more important than almost anything."
On the former Terps teammates he keeps in touch with the most:
"Probably the most would be Drew Nicholas and Terence Morris. Those guys were really close to me in college and we spent a lot of time together. The three of us really spent the majority of our time together, so I still keep in touch with them and they're doing really well."
On fouling out before Duke's "Miracle Minute" at Cole Field House:
"I didn't have to forgive myself. I had to forgive the referees for making such a bad call. That's something that still, every once in awhile, that game will come up on 'Hardwood Classics' or something like that and it still hurts to this day."
On keeping the ball from the final whistle of the national championship game against Indiana:
"If you watch the end of the game, Juan Dixon has the ball in his hand and he got so excited, he just threw it way up in the air like players do when they're excited. So I actually saw the ball and as it was coming down, I ran and grabbed it. I still have the ball. I had all my teammates sign it and I kept it. That's probably the thing I have that people don't realize."
For more from Blake, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics