D-League giving Canadian coaches a deserving shot at the big time

Raptors 905 and the Maine Red Claws take part in the first tip-off for the NBA D-League at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. (Frank Gunn/CP)

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Over the course of his four-year Div. I NCAA basketball career at Cleveland State University, Patrick Tatham consistently heard the same message.

“Pat, when you’re done your career here at Cleveland State you need to come coach because you’ve got it, you have it, you have everything you need to coach,” Tatham’s coaches would always tell the Brampton, Ont., native.

But upon graduation, Tatham wasn’t quite ready to put his playing days behind him and opted to play professionally overseas, where he found himself in Switzerland, Germany, Qatar and even Syria.

The journey proved fruitful for Tatham as it opened his eyes to different styles of basketball and helped him see the game in a different way. And when he finally did decide to hang up his sneakers, he started to revisit the message his old Cleveland State coaches had given him.

As things turned out, they were absolutely right all along.

Currently an assistant coach with the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws, Tatham is one of Canadian basketball’s rising sideline stars, winning OUA coach of the year last season as interim head coach of the Ryerson University Rams while leading his club to its first OUA championship.

He’s also just the latest in a growing Red and White trend happening in Maine.

P.E.I. native Scott Morrison has been at the helm of the Red Claws since the 2014–15 season — a year that also saw him win D-League coach of the year. He came to the Boston Celtics affiliate after a long and successful career at Lakehead and has made a point to hold onto his Canadian ties.

“When I was at Lakehead I thought our CIS coaches were right on par with those in the NCAA — just, obviously, on a smaller scale and [with] less budget,” Morrison said last week during the annual D-League Showcase in Mississauga.

This thought has given way to Morrison adding Canadian basketball coaching talent to his staff in two of the three seasons that he’s been in Maine.

During that first season with the Red Claws Morrison brought in Nathaniel Mitchell, a Toronto-born coach who was with Fresno State University at the time. He has since landed with the Raptors 905 as an assistant after one year in Maine.

“As soon as I was given the opportunity to coach this team my first call was to Nate,” Morrison says. “I knew he was a great player-development coach [and] had a great understanding of the game. I knew he would thrive if he got the opportunity, which he did.”

This season, Morrison dug into his CIS roots and brought in Tatham, who is taking a sabbatical from Ryerson to pursue the opportunity.

“I’ve known [Tatham] for a number of years through the national-team program,” says Morrison. “He’s another example of proof that we have great coaches in Canada.”

Both Morrison and Tatham had something of a homecoming last week at the D-League Showcase, hosted this year by Raptors 905 in Mississauga. For those unfamiliar, the Showcase is an event that sees all 22 D-League teams head to one location to play regular-season games in front of scouts and personnel from all 30 NBA teams.

It’s essentially a five-day audition with a shot at best basketball league in the world on the line.

“Most guys in the D-League thinking they’re close to a call-up,” Morrison says. “It’s not always the case, but guys have to have that mindset to go out and try to attack every night.”

Both the Showcase and the D-League in general represent an opportunity for coaches to take advantage of as well.

“It’s kind of surreal because you’re one level below the big show — the NBA. As a player you always want to make it to the NBA, and I suppose as a coach my goal is to make it [there, too],” Tatham says. “Being so close to the NBA right now has been such a great experience in the 26 games we’ve played so far, and I’m just soaking it all up.”

Though he resisted the coaching path out of university, Tatham’s player-development history goes back to high school. That’s when he started coaching his sisters, Alisha and Tamara — both of whom played professionally and have represented Canada at the Olympics.

And now, with the opportunity Morrison and the D-League have given him, it looks like his coaching future is brighter than anyone could’ve imagined.

“Who knows what happens next? Maybe I get a job, maybe I don’t, but at least I know I’m bringing my experience and what I’ve learned here this year back to Ryerson and I’ll go from there,” he says.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.