For the rest of the season, basketball lifer Joe Prunty will be leading the Milwaukee Bucks. His path to the position of interim head coach has been a long one.
Based on prior experiences with Joe Prunty as the Bucks’ acting head coach, it’s possible to predict how Prunty’s Bucks may differ from Jason Kidd‘s. Yet, as a longtime assistant who never played in the Association, he has flown under the radar for many basketball fans.
With that in mind, now is the ideal time to take a closer look at the newly-minted interim head coach’s path to the Milwaukee sideline.
The Sunnyvale, California native came up as a basketball player and coach in his home state. His playing days were headlined by his time at De Anza College in Cupertino, and his coaching roots can be traced back to tenures at two San Diego High Schools.
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While coaching at University of San Diego High School, Prunty had two future stars in Lakers head coach Luke Walton, and former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior on his squad. Unbeknownst to him, this was the first of many star-laden lineups for the Bucks’ new leader.
He joined the San Antonio Spurs in 1996, where he got his start in the pros as a video coordinator. The 48-year-old Californian has made the following stops on his way to Milwaukee, holding the title of assistant coach for all but his early years in San Antonio:
- San Antonio Spurs (1996-2005)
- Dallas Mavericks (2005-2008)
- Portland Trailblazers (2008-2010)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013)
- Brooklyn Nets (2013-2014)
Since 2014, Prunty has been with the Bucks. There have been a number of highlights in the longtime assistant’s career, including three championships with Tim Duncan and company. He made it to the finals with the Mavericks in 2006, and his Trail Blazers teams had campaigns of 54 and 50 wins.
Milwaukee’s interim head coach has learned from some of the best, and knows what it feels like to be a part of a winning culture. Those formative years under Gregg Popovich will always stay with Prunty, and he has spoken glowingly regarding the Spurs’ mastermind:
"“I tried to learn as much as I could, and that’s where Pop was phenomenal for me and so many of us,” Prunty said. “He allowed us to be a part of it, to grow and learn from all the situations.“I know the benefit for me was tremendous. I’m not even sure what the exact words would be to say how valuable it was. There are a lot of good people I’ve been able to be around, and it started there.”"
Prunty has been married to his wife Laura since 2002, and they have two children. Little has been made public regarding his interests outside basketball, but the Californian can be heard in a brief interview from 2015 professing his fondness for Milwaukee’s beaches, and the Milwaukee Public Market. So what does a man like coach Prunty do in the offseason? He coaches basketball, of course.
Seemingly unable to get enough, this hoops devotee has coached in NBA Summer League, taken part in global initiatives like NBA Basketball Without Borders, and even served as head coach of Great Britain’s national team from 2012-17. Prunty’s adventure across the pond with GB was the subject of an ESPN article, where a quote exemplified his lifelong curiosity toward basketball:
"“That’s the fun part of basketball. Every day is different. It’s not like other jobs. I remember being on a back-to-back once, and one of the guys in our travel party asked me, ‘Does the NBA feel like Groundhog Day?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’“Because I promise you, at some point during this game, you will see something spectacular that you probably haven’t seen before. And at that moment in time, you’ll go, ‘Wow.’ That’s basketball. Whether you’re with an Under-16 team, a men’s team, the Euroleague Final Four, an NBA game, a college game, or a playground somewhere in the world, you’ll see something that will be incredible to watch.”"
The highlight of his time in that role came early in a surprising win over Israel in the first round of EuroBasket 2013. Poor funding and disorganization surrounding the GB program plagued the remainder of his years as GB’s head coach, and there was not much more to celebrate. Nevertheless, Prunty left a strong impression on his roster, as evidenced by the powerful words of former British National team member Ovie Soko. Said Soko:
"“Some guys might have a bit more love for the programme than others, because they’ve benefited from the [expletive] to be frank with you, but if it wasn’t for Coach Prunty I wouldn’t even think about playing for GB, man, and that’s just genuine.”"
If Joe Prunty can instill such loyalty in this promising Milwaukee team, he might find himself at the center of the search for Jason Kidd’s permanent replacement.