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Swanson: Former Pasadena Muir star Jacque Vaughn is right coach for Nets

LOS ANGELES — You probably heard that the Brooklyn Nets made the safe choice when they promoted assistant Jacque Vaughn to head coach six games ago.

Let’s reframe that: They made the right choice.

Anyone who was in L.A. and paying attention in the early 1990s could’ve told you that. People who knew Vaughn then, who played with him, coached him or watched his games from the edge of their bleacher seats – they knew.

Initially, though, word was that the Nets – who were losing games and, in the aftermath of Kyrie Irving’s decision to promote an antisemetic video, respectability – planned to add another twist to their soap opera of a season by bringing aboard Ime Udoka.

Also a former Brooklyn assistant, Udoka led Boston to the NBA Finals last season, his first as head coach, but the Celtics suspended him before this season because of an improper relationship with a subordinate.

Whether it was because of outside pressure or a moment of sensibility, the 2-5 Nets instead chose Vaughn, once a standout scholar-athlete at Pasadena Muir High School, to take over for Steve Nash and pull them out of their nosedive.

With Vaughn serving as their lead coach in the six games since – first as on an interim basis and, as of Wednesday, a permanent one – they’re 4-2 (and 6-7 overall). (They’ve played the past five without Irving, who has been suspended for a period that will continue Sunday against the Lakers.)

And with Saturday’s 110-95 victory over the Clippers at Arena, they’ve held five consecutive opponents to fewer than 100 points.


Sure, if you predicated the the kid from L.A. with the flashy fundamentals and 4.0 grade-point average was destined to grow up to become a titan of industry.

That was Rocky Moore’s expectation. He has the distinction of having coached both Vaughn (from 1989-1993) at Muir and the Golden State Warriors’ five-time-title-winning coach Steve Kerr at Pacific Palisades High School (1981-82).

“I thought they’d become CEOs of a Fortune 500 company,” said Moore, whose kids can say the current Brooklyn Nets coach was their babysitter. “They were both really serious in whatever they did, and personable and intelligent and they worked real hard.”

That they became basketball players and then coaches is a testament to how devoted they are to the game, Moore said.

“He’s just good at stuff, good in games, cards, a great pitcher,” said Mike O’Quinn, who started playing with Vaughn in fifth grade on the successful Slam-n-Jam AAU team before joining him at Muir in 1993, when they won the Mustangs CIF Southern Section Division II-A championship.

“And he was fast. In our senior year, in the hallways of our high school, he beat Saladin McCullough!” said O’Quinn, recalling a spontaneous race between the 6-foot-1 point guard and the hotly recruited running back who’d go on to play pro football.

That year, Vaughn also became the first basketball player to earn the Dial Award as the nation’s top male high school scholar-athlete.

He took his talents to Kansas, where he graduated before being drafted 27th by Utah in 1997. He played the final few seasons of his 12-year NBA career in San Antonio, where he won a championship in 2007 and also started to realize something about himself: He’d make a good coach.

“I was able to talk to the No. 1 guy on the team, but also had a relationship to the No. 15 guy,” Vaughn said before tipoff Saturday. “And so I said, ‘If I can do that … have empathy for the position that people are in, I think that matters in sports.’ And that led to me tagging along to Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich).”

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