The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jan van Breda Kolff has coached at the summit of basketball and his family name is synonymous with the sport.
Now, after an 18-year coaching odyssey that included stops in the NBA and the Southeastern Conference, he is practicing his trade with the unheralded Nashville Broncs
of the American Basketball Association.
Far from the glamour of the NBA and the hoopla that is major college basketball, van Breda Kolff’s minor league squad plays before crowds of 1,200 to 1,500 against teams like the Georgia Grizzlies, the Mississippi Blues and the West Virginia Outlaws.
The 57-year-old toils in hopes of getting another big-time opportunity.
“I enjoy developing players,” said van Breda Kolff, whose college jobs included stops at Cornell, Vanderbilt and Pepperdine. “They come in sort of naive and then they leave as mature young men.”
And he points out, “I’ve won every place I’ve been.”
Van Breda Kolff, son of longtime NBA (including the Lakers) and college coach Butch van Breda Kolff, has a 204-155 career record with two NCAA tourney appearances and five NIT berths. He also spent one season as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Hornets.
But there is also one major blemish.
At St. Bonaventure, he was dismissed after a player was ruled ineligible for failing to meet transfer guidelines. To protest the ruling, the Bonnies boycotted their final two games of the 2002-2003 season. A year later, the NCAA disciplined the program, citing lack of institutional control.
“It was an unfortunate situation,” van Breda Kolff recalled. “There had never been any problem with my integrity during my career. The NCAA investigated … and gave me a stack of papers exonerating me. I also got a good resolution from St. Bonaventure. I was stigmatized and tarnished by it, but I was not the issue or the problem.
“You read these big articles in the paper about the situation at St. Bonaventure, then there’s one paragraph when I got exonerated.”
But van Breda Kolff isn’t just twiddling his fingers with the Broncs. He has embraced the opportunity to get back on the sidelines. He’d settled in Nashville and was out of coaching for three years, running basketball camps and clinics and doing color commentary for TV broadcasts of Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Conference USA games.
Under van Breda Kolff, the Broncs are 20-4.
“I’d been in basketball 30 years,” he said in an interview in a coffee shop near his office. “I missed the day-to-day routine of being around a team, missed the preparation and then getting them to execute, calling the timeouts and the plays.”
Adam Sonn, a Broncs player, said van Breda Kolff is qualified to coach at any level.
“He has the mindset of both a former player and a coach,” Sonn said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. ”
Scott Lumley, owner of the no-frills ABA franchise, is a former rodeo competitor. He describes van Breda Kolff as a player’s coach.
“He knows how to work with them and he knows how to get the best out of somebody,” Lumley said. “He’s put us in a position to win every game.”
Ronnie McMahan, who played for van Breda Kolff at Vanderbilt and is now a member of the Broncs, says van Breda Kolff has refined his skills down through the years.
“Coach has changed,” McMahan said. “He’s a lot more personable because he’s not under so much pressure. He’s more of a teacher now.”