Kings Assistant Coach and Summer League Team Head Coach Chris Jent dishes on winning an NBA championship, working with LeBron James and much more.
Following a stellar four-year career at Ohio State – during which he connected on 38.2 percent from long range and helped lead the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten Championships – Kings Assistant Coach Chris Jent spent 10 seasons playing professionally in the NBA and overseas. In addition to winning a championship as a member of the 1993-94 Houston Rockets, the 6-foot-7 forward suited up for the Knicks and starred in the CBA, Australia, Italy, Spain and Greece.
A basketball enthusiast since childhood, Jent delved into coaching after retiring as a player, working as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2003-04 and the Orlando Magic in 2004-05 – serving as head coach over the final 18 games of the season. During his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers – as director of player development for three seasons and assistant coach in 2009-10 – he worked closely and developed strong bonds with Kings Head Coach Michael Malone and reigning League MVP LeBron James.
Prior to joining the Kings, Jent returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach for two seasons, helping Ohio State advance to the Final Four in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2013.
In a recent Q&A with Kings.com, the Kings Summer League Team head coach reflected on his playing and coaching careers, helping a perennial All-Star improve his jumpshot, excitement for the 2013-14 Sacramento campaign and more.
How did basketball first enter your life?
“As a young kid, sports were a part of what we did to get out of the house. I have two older brothers – we (played) three sports all our lives, and basketball was a part of it early.
“I became a basketball junkie at about the age of 13, when I just put my other sports on the shelf and was on the floor all the time. I’d play six-to-eight hours of basketball a day, so I feel very comfortable on the floor.”
You won a championship with the Rockets in 1993-94. What did you learn from playing on a title team alongside Hall of Fame players?
“I think the perseverance. We were in some difficult situations – down 0-2, going to Phoenix to play three games (in the Western Conference Semifinals). In types of situations like that, you see character of leadership and you learn a lot from those guys. Talent needs to lead, so Hakeem (Olajuwon) really took control of the team right before Game 3 and it was revealing to see.”
Two years later, you suited up for a Knicks team that also reached the Playoffs. What were your biggest takeaways from your N.Y. tenure?
“I had a short stint overseas and in the CBA, and I went back to play in the NBA with the Knicks (in 1996-97). I had an opportunity to either go to the Knicks or the Clippers, and I decided to go to the Knicks. It was an awesome environment, too – both playing for Coach (Jeff) Van Gundy and also (being a part of) that veteran team. To see the inner-workings of how they function, you learn a lot.”
You went on to play overseas in numerous countries. How much did you enjoy those experiences?
“It was amazing – traveling the world and the country through basketball. It’s been a great vehicle for me to see the world. The thing I value most is learning the culture, learning the language. Italian was a language I had a pretty good hold on while I was over there. Making friends with people who were from those cities and different places and getting to know the nuances of different countries was cool.
“Italy was the main place where I played, and once we were comfortable with how things worked there, I told my agent, ‘Listen, I really would like to go back to Italy. If there are offers from other places, I’ll entertain them, but I would prefer to go back there.’ Just being comfortable there was very important.”
When did you first realize you were interested in coaching?
“I coached as a young kid – I coached T-ball teams, I would umpire. Even though it may not have always been basketball, I stayed on that side of it. I really enjoyed working (at) local camps as a high school kid. So I didn’t know until I was done playing, but even as a child, I was always staying involved in that area.”
Who have been the mentors who’ve helped shape your coaching career?
“I’ve been very fortunate – I’ve had a lot of mentors, starting with my family. Both my mom and my dad, and my brothers (have been influential) – I really rely on them for a lot.
“(My high school coach) really taught me that passion of basketball and really got me into it. He was a really hard worker and really knew the game.
“It started there and from then on there have been a lot of people who’ve had a great influence. Being in a lot of different places, I’ve been fortunate to see different ways of doing things.”
How would you characterize your relationship with LeBron James, and how did you help him improve his jumpshot?
“My relationship with LeBron is good. We’re obviously supporters of each other. I got to know him very well and I think we have a great amount of respect for one another even though we don’t really talk much anymore.
“The way he improved was just with a lot of hard work and focus. His focus to change and commit to it was unbelievable. We started from the ground up. I would travel with him all over the world during the summers – it was really hard on the family – I’d be gone basically (from) right after the end of the season. We started with form shooting – how to hold the ball, how to keep your feet (planted), so it started with the basics. It was his commitment that made it work.”
You’ve previously worked alongside Coach Malone in Cleveland. How would you describe his coaching style and approach to the game?
“I don’t think you’re going to guess as a player or someone who works with him what he’s thinking – he’s going to let you know. He’s very clear-cut and he’s very meticulous. He really is the type of person who sells accountability. You know where you stand with him and you appreciate that about him. So, he’s not hard to read.”
What excites you most about the Kings roster?
“The potential of the players is really what excites me. I see a group that could – if the common goal is there – be very good. It’s the only way you can win at any level – you have to have commitment as a group.”
How would you describe yourself off the court?
(Laughs) “I’m not really exciting. I’m just a family guy. My time is (spent) with my daughter, my son and my wife – whatever they have going on, that’s what I’m doing. If my daughter wants to fish, I’m going fishing. I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so whatever they want to do, I’m great with it.
“I love the beach – I was born outside of Laguna Beach in Orange, Calif., so that left a real imprint. I love swimming and body surfing.”