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With a hunger and work ethic second to none, Jamahl Mosley puts his stamp on the Magic

Being a former NBA player is currency when trying to transition into NBA coaching, and Jamahl Mosley didn’t have any.

He was broke, by comparison, in more ways than one.

Mosley played at Colorado for four years, but he wasn’t drafted nor did he ever suit up for an NBA team. His name didn’t resonate like Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups or Steve Nash — All-Stars with a combined one year of bench experience before they became head coaches.

That’s not to say they didn’t earn their spots. It’s just that Mosley’s path was vastly different. Success requires sacrifice.

“You’re doing whatever you can,” Mosley said of his first job in scouting/player development with the Denver Nuggets, where he worked 1½ seasons without a steady paycheck from 2005-07. “Taking [food] from the plane. I’d do little different things against the guys for money. There was a cold plunge in our locker room. One our guys bet me, ‘I bet you $500 you can’t stay under there for 30 seconds.’ I got $500. Those guys would do random things, but I always did cold plunge challenges anyway. It was little random things like that. I wasn’t a gambler, so it was taking bets on things I could accomplish.

“I would take peanut butter sandwiches off the plane. I’d take ham sandwiches off the plane or turkey sandwiches. Those were my meals. I’m taking off whatever’s on the plane and that was your dinner.”

Sixteen years later, Mosley, 43, is the head coach of the Orlando Magic — using the lessons he learned through a work ethic instilled in him from birth.

Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who had Mosley on his staff with the Dallas Mavericks from 2014-21, recognized his ascension was inevitable.

“We all knew it years before,” Carlisle said in a phone conversation with the Orlando Sentinel, “but sometimes things come to a culmination point and it becomes obvious. It was his time.”

For Carlisle, there wasn’t just one moment when that became apparent. The idea had been in the back of his mind since about 2018.

Then it crystallized on a Friday — April 2, 2021 — at Madison Square Garden.

Just a few hours before the Mavericks were scheduled to play the New York Knicks, Carlisle had a positive COVID-19 test. It ultimately was a false positive and Carlisle was able to travel and coach Dallas the following day, but the results from his other tests weren’t available until late that evening — leaving his lead assistant, Mosley, at the front of the bench for the first time.

The Mavericks beat the Knicks 99-86 for Mosley’s first win as an acting head coach, and less than five seconds after he walked into Dallas’ locker room postgame players doused him with water in celebration.

“He has an ability to connect with players and I just felt wherever he went, the players would not allow him to fail as a coach,” said Carlisle, a respected and influential voice as longtime president of the NBA Coaches Association. “That moment typified it. I sent it out to the people I talk to around the league that had head coaching jobs available.”

Added Mavericks assistant coach Darrell Armstrong, one of the Magic’s most popular players from 1994-2003: “At that time you already know. He just needs his opportunity. He got it with the Magic.”

Strong foundation

Mosley was born on Oct. 6, 1978, in Milwaukee to James and Deborah Mosley. His parents divorced when he was 6. And at 13 he, his older brother, Jason, and his mom moved to San Diego.

He was a star player at Rancho Buena Vista High School (in the greater San Diego area), named the California Interscholastic Federation Player of the Year in 1997 before playing basketball at Colorado under longtime college coach Ricardo Patton.

It was with the Buffaloes that Mosley further developed an appreciation for mixed martial arts. He was drawn to the mental discipline and toughness it demanded. It was a perfect fit.

“Jamahl was one of the few college players I coached that actually worked out with me and trained,” Patton said. “He was interested as a freshman. I’ve always offered it to train any of my players, but he was one of the few guys who took me up on it.”

Mosley’s interest in MMA allowed Patton, who’s a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo, to lead him on and off the basketball court. His mother loved what Patton represented, according to Mosley, which was a significant reason why he chose Colorado.

“In college [with] coach Patton, there was a level of discipline, compassion, humility and level of toughness that he brought every day,” said Mosley, who was exposed to Taekwondo earlier with his brother being a brown belt but he lacked interest at the time. “That’s what that represented to me.”

Mosley, 6-8 forward, averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in four seasons with the Buffaloes before playing for multiple professional teams overseas: Victoria Titans/Giants in Australia (2001-03); Baloncesto Leon in Spain (2003-04); Korihait in Finland (’04); and the Seoul Samsung Thunders in South Korea (’05). He was the National Basketball League’s Best Sixth Man in 2002 with Victoria.

Mosley ended his playing career and moved back to the United States shortly after Deborah’s death in November 2004 because of multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells) — a period Mosley called the turning point of his life.

“She was a big thinker, big dreamer, woman of faith, a teacher, kind, compassionate, caring, a servant … all of those things,” Mosley said. “I take that from her. It was instilled in me at an early age. A lot of that was also my dad when I was younger just challenging me to be better, to learn more and understand what is more.

“You realize when you’re gone, you’re missing time. We all have jobs to do, but it really put it back into perspective of being home.”

A new life awaited him.

Sacrifice and the NBA

Mosley was living with his old college roommate, Ronnie DeGray, after moving back to Colorado in 2005. John Welch and legendary development coach Tim Grgurich, who were working as assistants under then-Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl, helped him get a player development coaching role that summer.

Mosley worked with players from Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nenê to Julius Hodge, Linas Kleiza and Earl Boykins. His responsibilities during his first couple of seasons in Denver? Everything from scouting and player development to the video room.

“His role, what no else wanted to do, he had to do,” Karl said. “One day he might have the best player and you’ve got to work him out. The next day, all he does is chase down balls. The next day he might go pick up lunch. Kind of the last man on the roster and he had to do whatever was necessary to get done.”

Mosley said he didn’t become an at-will employee for the Nuggets until midway through the 2006-07 season — meaning he wasn’t getting paid by the organization for almost 1 1/2 years. He leaned on the savings he accumulated as a player overseas to get by, as well as money Karl paid him out of pocket.

“It wasn’t a lot of money,” Karl said.

Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations since 2017, was in his final season as the Nuggets assistant general manager when Mosley joined them. Weltman was a key voice among the Orlando brass that hired him.

“What I remember about Mose from that time is his hunger, work ethic, how great he was to be around and how quickly the players enjoyed being around him and how he got them to work at a high level,” Weltman said. “It’s a small league and paths cross often, but obviously that’s not why people get coaching jobs. They get coaching jobs because the organization feels they’re the right person for the job and [Mosley] brought a host of experience even as a rookie.”

Mosley became a full-time assistant coach for the Nuggets ahead of the 2007-08 season, spending three more seasons there before taking an assistant coaching role with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-14), where he worked closely in the development of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.

It was in Cleveland that Mosley met his wife, Kristina. They have three children: Jemma (8 years old), CJ (6) and Chance (4).

“Jamahl’s very impressive,” Karl said. “What I liked about him? He respected the protocols of starting at the bottom and working your way up. John and Tim are two of the greatest workout guys in the NBA and he just learned from them. Toward the end of his time, he was running stations. He was just like a sponge. He didn’t talk a lot early, but he had the respect of the players and coaches by how hard he worked.”

Like Grgurich, Mosley didn’t shy away from confronting players when necessary. There’s a delicate balance, and he managed it perfectly.

“He had the courage to go up to them and tell them the truth rather than ignore a problem or attitude,” Karl said. “Jamahl was very good as an assistant coach to stand up to star players who might be making mistakes.”

The best player on the Mavericks can attest to that Mosley experience.

“He was always staying realistic with me whether I liked it or not,” said Luka Doncic. “And that’s what I appreciated the most.”

While those instances were challenging — especially when he wasn’t a salaried employee in Denver — Mosley leaned on this mother’s values to help him climb the coaching ladder.

“Were there times where I was like ‘Dang, this is tough. What am I doing?’” Mosley said. “Yes. But that’s where the reminder of, ‘This is why you came back. Your mom would want you to do these things. This is your character. This is who you are. Keep working. You’re a worker. You’re making people better — that’s what it’s about.’”

Firm but positive

After interviewing for coaching jobs during the last few years, Mosley made it.

He’s an NBA head coach.

His mentors figured he’d get here one day, and a rebuilding Magic team appears fitting.

“His number one job is to teach a bunch of young guys how to be pros,” Karl said. “Jamahl’s ability to communicate is his asset. His strength is he can talk and say tough things, and they still listen. Jamahl’s not afraid of a tough situation. But he’s also very positive, and when you do things the right way, he’ll be your biggest cheerleader.”

Rebuilds take time. Will Mosley be there long enough to see it through? The early returns suggest he could be.

The wins haven’t come often for the Magic, who are have one of the league’s worst records at 18-50 entering Sunday’s games. But Mosley isn’t deterred and remains focused on development, which is what got him into the league.

Besides, rebuilding franchises aren’t consumed by the win-loss column and the now. They’re about youth, culture and the tomorrow.

“The game of basketball is about wins and losses, but you have to start with a foundation,” Mosley said. “Once guys understand what we’re about, the wins will come because then it comes bigger than the wins-losses.

“You can learn from each outcome. How did we play, what did we do, how did we handle ourselves, did we learn from this, did we grow from this? Now we can go because when I’m talking about those things that are character-driven, they relate to the court. It’s built on that. As we start to get closer and closer, they’re understanding what it’s really about. My job is to help facilitate that a little more.”

His title has changed. His paychecks are bigger. No need for free peanut butter sandwiches.

At his core, however, Mosley has stayed the same. That’s what got him here.

Mom would be proud.

This article first appeared on Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.


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