All but one current NBA head coach played college basketball. The only one who didn’t? Taylor Jenkins, a Wharton alumnus whose organized playing career had ended by the time he was an undergraduate.
Jenkins’ coaching career, however, was just beginning. While he was at Penn, he interned with the San Antonio Spurs. From there, he landed a job in the franchise’s front office. Then he became an assistant coach for their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. He was eventually promoted to head coach, before moving on to be an assistant coach with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
Jenkins graduated from Wharton in 2007, and during his time at Penn, the only basketball he played was on the intramural level. Just six years later, in 2013, he had made it as a coach for the Hawks. A year later, he helped them to the NBA’s best record. He followed coach Mike Budenholzer to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he was an assistant for another excellent season.
Jenkins’ meteoric rise culminated with him becoming the NBA’s second-youngest head coach, hired at age 34 by the Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s early into Jenkins’ tenure as the head coach of the Grizzlies, but he’s exceeded all expectations.
Coming into the season, the Grizzlies were expected to have a rebuilding year. They had two of the most exciting young players in the NBA in point guard Ja Morant and big man Jaren Jackson Jr., but more than a few hiccups were expected. ESPN’s NBA Preview projected them to be the fourth-worst team in the league. The “best-case-scenario” model projected 35 wins. They’re currently on pace for 43.
Not only are the Grizzlies exceeding their preseason expectations, Jenkins is getting recognized for his efforts. After leading them to an 11-4 record and launching them firmly into the playoff picture in January, he was named the Western Conference Coach of the Month. He’s the youngest coach to earn this award since 2003. He’s also the first Grizzlies coach to win this award since 2014.
Jenkins is thriving. But it’s not just that he’s leading his teams to wins, it’s the way he’s doing it. His positive energy is infectious. According to an article on The Ringer, the first time new acquisition Grayson Allen found himself open on the three-point line, Jenkins yelled at him to, “Let that motherf***er fly!”
Encouraging his players to shoot has proven helpful. The Grizzlies are shooting 35.1% from three-point range this year, up a whole percentage point from a year ago. Star rookie Ja Morant, expected to be much more of a driver in the NBA, has actually shot above the team average.
With Jenkins, the Memphis Grizzlies have found their coach of the future with one of the NBA’s most exciting young rosters. He’s gotten the most out of Morant, Brandon Clarke, and has cleverly weaved in the veteran presence of Jonas Valanciunas.
Even if the Grizzlies cool off and are unable to make the playoffs at the end of the year, Jenkins has established himself as one of the NBA’s best young coaches. The fact that he became a head coach after having no college playing experience embodies the hard-working spirit he wants to instill in his players.