NBA D-League: Austin Ainge sharpens his coaching claws in Maine
Austin Ainge • Young coach sharpens claws in Maine as part of NBA Developmental League.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Orem • Maine collapsed in the second half Tuesday night and, during the final seconds of its NBA Development League game against Utah, the Red Claws trailed by 30.

Still, there was a job to do.

As a head coach in the D-League, Austin Ainge's task involves teaching and persevering as much as winning and losing.

So, despite Maine's hopeless situation against the Flash, Ainge continued to instruct and encourage his players.

Even on a bad night, his passion was obvious.

"I love the game and the team atmosphere," Ainge said. "It's fun to be with a group of guys trying to accomplish a goal.

"There is stress, pressure, joy, failure and disappointment — all the emotions I don't think you don't feel quite as intensely as in a regular job."

The name Ainge should be familiar, of course.

Danny Ainge is a former BYU star who, until Jimmer Fredette passed him this season, was the Cougars' all-time leading scorer.

Thirty years ago, Danny Ainge's floor-length drive beat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

It remains the single-most memorable play in Cougar history.

Austin Ainge has seen his father's game-winning basket many times. But last week, he saw a replay of BYU's entire 51-50 win for the first time.

"I sent my dad a text," Ainge said. "I told him, 'Thank goodness for the 3-point line and the shot clock because that was a horribly boring game.' "

Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge, John Paxson and Joe Kleine played for Notre Dame.

Besides his father, the BYU roster included Fred Roberts and Greg Kite.

Said Ainge: "Each team had a lot of talent — future NBA players. But [coach] Digger Phelps has Notre Dame holding the ball for three minutes at a time. It made me very much appreciate the new rules."

Like his father, who is now the president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, Ainge attended BYU.

He was a solid — but not spectacular — player, although he once scored 25 points against Colorado State and played on three NCAA Tournament teams under Steve Cleveland and Dave Rose.

"My fondest memories are the players and the coaching staff," Ainge said. "I'm still close with those guys. I stay in touch with them all the time.

"Besides that, playing in the Marriott Center is a unique experience. When it's sold out and loud and rocking, that's really what sports is all about — just fun."

After BYU, Ainge started his coaching career as an assistant at Southern Utah University.

He left SUU after one season and became a scout for the Celtics.

At age 27, he was named Maine's head coach in 2009.

"I feel like I'm learning a lot," Ainge said. "I get a chance to coach multiple teams — different teams — during a season because of all the roster fluctuations.

"I coach small ball. I coach big guys. I coach slow. I coach fast. You learn to adapt to your personnel. It's a great environment for a young coach."

The Red Claws are affiliated with Boston and Charlotte but are independently owned by a 15-person partnership.

While Ainge's name might have initially caught management's eye, he got the job on his own and guided the Red Claws to a 27-23 record in his first season.

Former Utah Jazz assistant Gordon Chiesa is the NBA's mentor for D-League coaches.

Ainge is "learning his craft and doing a good job," Chiesa said. "He's what I call a new-wave communicator.

"When you're 30, you communicate with players differently than older coaches, and that's a positive.

"He's what the D-League is all about."

luhm@sltrib.com —

Austin Ainge file

High school • Highland(Gilbert, Ariz.)

College • BYU

Current position • Head coach, Maine Red Claws

Personal • Son of former BYU star and Boston Celtic executive Danny Ainge. … One of six children in his family. … Averaged 22 points a game as a senior in high school. … Went on an LDS Church mission to the Dominican Republic. … Averaged 6.6 points and 3.5 assists during a four-year career at BYU. … Former assistant coach at Southern Utah (2007-08) and Celtic scout (2008-09). … Named head coach of the D-League's Maine Red Claws on July 21, 2009.