Vitaly Potapenko enjoys coaching in NBA D-League

potapenko-1Vitaly Potapenko, a native of Ukraine, played in the NBA for 10 years. Prior to that, he played college basketball at Wright State University and was selected 12th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1996 NBA Draft.

Potapenko played for Cleveland Cavs, Boston Celtics, Seattle Supersonics, and Sacramento Kings.

He holds career averages of 6.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 19 minutes of playing time.

In total, he played 610 NBA games (189 started), and after retiring from the league, he turned to coaching.

Today, Potapenko is sharing his knowledge and experience with players in the NBA D-League.

Potapenko is using his immense amount of NBA experience, and knowledge obtained from his playing days, as integral tools in his coaching approach.

He used his relationships with previous coaches and connections that he made during their playing career to help land him coaching jobs now in the NBADL.

In Potapenko’s case, his connection with former Indiana Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien ultimately helped Potapenko get his foot in the proverbial coaching door, when the big man started volunteering with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for a season.

Potapenko spoke with and explained his start.

“Jim O’Brien (who at the time was the head coach of the Indiana Pacers) called Fort Wayne and I came down to the local tryout, after that I volunteered for my first year, I traveled with the team but I was not on their contract system. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed coaching,” Potapenko said.

Now, Potapenko is in his second year as an assistant coach with the Santa Cruz Warriors, and also spent time as an assistant in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers.

Potapenko joins Casey Hill as apart of second year head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s staff.

The Santa Cruz Warriors have had a tremendous start under their new identity in the NBA D-League, as the franchise relocated from Bismarck, North Dakota to Santa Cruz, California this season.

The move was likely difficult for fans in Bismarck, as the franchise won a championship while calling North Dakota its home.

But as the Golden State Warriors looked to strengthen their relationship with their D-League affiliate, the move to nearby Santa Cruz was essential.

Potapenko was apart of the formerly known Dakota Wizards staff, and commented on the new transition, “In Bismarck, North Dakota, the fans were very loyal, dedicated and helped win a championship. But it happens, and the team relocated to Santa Cruz. Honestly, I didn’t expect such a turnout, our home crowd is unbelievable. I would say that it’s the best home supporting crowd in the entire D-League.”

potapenko-2The transition to Santa Cruz has proven to be beneficial in terms of winning as well.

The successful tradition created in Dakota has relocated with the franchise as the Warriors with the help of Potapenko, have created a product in which the area is evidently proud to support.

Potapenko specifically mentioned that the reason for the team’s success is due to their ability to play as a single unit.

“We are at our best when we play together, there are guys that put up big numbers, but I think it’s a collaborated effort and we win because of that,” said Potapenko.

Despite dropping their two games against the Stampede, the Warriors finished their 7-game road trip with a 4-3 record and still remain in the NBADL’s top tier of teams.

For their remaining 21 games, Santa Cruz and Potapenko will only hit the road for 6 remaining contests. That leaves them plenty of time to enjoy their friendly confines in Santa Cruz, where they are 8-2.

The heavy amount of assignments this season in the D-League has mainly involved first round draft picks and young prospects of NBA teams who have opted for real live game time via the D-League, as opposed to practices and time on the bench.

Potapenko had points in his career where he was held out of games and spent more time sitting rather than playing. The D-League was never really an option for him, so he had to find other alternatives to simulate game situations.

“My rookie year, there were a lot of games where I did not play at all. I think for players to get playing time in the D-League is beneficial and good for their game conditioning, and confidence” he said.

The first hand experiences that Potapenko can share with young players either on assignment, or as fixtures on his team’s roster, is a valuable asset.

Potapenko can often be seen participating in drills and providing his large frame as simulated defender in pregame warmups and practice.

Former players turned coaches such as Potapenko bring undeniable leadership and a sense of uniqueness to the bench, his importance is even greater in a league where player development is the prime goal.


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