Detail

USD Men's Basketball Program Has a Strong Pipeline to the NBA

From left to right, the USD men's basketball program has a strong pipeline to the NBA with David Fizdale, Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff among its alumni. All are or have been NBA head coaches.From left to right, the USD men's basketball program has a strong pipeline to the NBA with David Fizdale, Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff among its alumni. All are or have been NBA head coaches.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. How’s that for a National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star starting five? Fill out the roster with a star-studded bench of Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tony Parker, Dikembe Mutombo and Wes Unseld.

Now that’s a Dream Team for the ages.

But every great team needs great leadership — from the bench to the front office — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful group than Bernie Bickerstaff, David Fizdale, Mike Brown, James Borrego, Hank Egan, Chris Grant and Eric Musselman.

The best part? They’re all Toreros.

Collectively, these men have coached, drafted or been connected to many of the NBA’s elite players — including every name on that list of hardwood luminaries. Between them, they’ve been part of 10 NBA title-winning teams, five have been an NBA head coach and Brown is a former NBA Coach of the Year, and Bickerstaff and Egan are enshrined in USD's Chet and Marguerite Pagni Family Athletics Hall of Fame. To the University of San Diego, these seven men are prime examples of the pipeline between Alcala Park and the NBA.

"It's one of our key selling points, for sure," USD Men's Basketball Head Coach Sam Scholl says. "After we talk to prospective players about the education they’ll receive, the campus and people they’ll be around, it's right there. We talk to them about the network of people they’ll have the opportunity to meet."

Upon entering Scholl’s office there's a wall mural dedicated to just some of USD's NBA pipeline successes.

"The prominent alumni you have the ability to tap into here are not just guys in the NBA, not just coaches, but decision-makers,” he said. “Anyone we recruit who has pro aspirations, our guys can tap into it. When the NBA guys are around, players can ask questions about their path to becoming a pro and tap into their knowledge. It's extremely valuable."

USD’s NBA Pipeline

Bickerstaff is the dean of the Toreros’ NBA group. He played at USD from 1964-66, earned his degree in 1968 and coached at USD, first as an assistant for Phil Woolpert and then as head coach from 1969-1973. Bickerstaff moved to the NBA in 1973 as an assistant and has been an NBA head coach five times and general manager twice. He’s currently the Cleveland Cavaliers’ senior advisor.

Egan, the only non-Torero alumnus on the pipeline mural and now retired, was USD's head coach from 1984-94. He enjoyed three NBA assistant coach stints with former college players. In San Antonio, Head Coach Gregg Popovich, who played for and coached with Egan at Air Force, had his mentor there from 1994-2002, including the 1998-99 NBA championship season. Egan joined Musselman when the former got his first head coaching job with Golden State in 2002. Brown asked Egan to join him in Cleveland in 2005 and that five-season stint included a 2007 NBA Finals appearance.

Fizdale and Borrego, both former USD players and USD assistants, are NBA head coaches for the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets, respectively. Borrego became the NBA's first full-time Hispanic head coach when he took the reins in Charlotte in 2018.

Brown played two years at USD, landed his first NBA opportunity through Bickerstaff in Denver in 1992, and has most recently won back-to-back NBA titles as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors. Previously, he was head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavaliers.

Grant, another former USD player and now a scout with the Spurs, is a former general manager for the Cavaliers, including when Brown was head coach and Egan was an assistant.

Musselman was head coach at Golden State and Sacramento and had multiple NBA stops as an assistant. He's now head coach for the University of Nevada-Reno.

There’s also an international USD-NBA presence. Neal Meyer, a former USD player and NBA staff employee for the Spurs, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Cavaliers, oversees NBA basketball operations in Europe, Middle East and more from his London-based office.

A Band of Brothers

The USD-to-NBA connection is a fraternity. It loves to reunite when the NBA Summer League meets in Las Vegas. Chris Grant and Mike Brown created the dinner get-together two years ago with 30 in attendance. Last year, the number nearly doubled. USD Athletics Director Bill McGillis attended both and Scholl went last year after being named USD's head coach.

“The ‘NBA Torero Family Gathering,’ as I call it, is something uniquely special to USD,” McGillis said. “It's a tribute to the legacies of Bernie Bickerstaff and Hank Egan and the foundation laid by so many men who wore the blue jersey, graced the Sports Center or JCP sideline as a coach, or otherwise contributed to the building of our program. There’s an old saying, ‘Tradition Never Graduates,’ and at USD it's true because of the incredible passion of Chris Grant, Mike Brown, David Fizdale and other men who want to honor and strengthen the Torero family and program. The NBA Torero family is an amazing asset for our university and a gift to today's program and players.”

Pipeline Connects; Hard Work Sustains

While having the USD connection is helpful, it’s only a foot in the door. Success and staying power in the NBA come from hard work and dedication — something these Toreros have in spades.

“Once we had guys transitioning into the NBA, more guys took a leap of faith with the internships we’d provide or low-low entry jobs and they worked their tails off to get to where they are now,” Brown said.

Fizdale said his USD-to-NBA journey, which included working with Musselman, Grant and a Brown introduction to Miami Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra where he helped that franchise win back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013, reinforces his belief in paying it forward. “You always want to try and pull another guy up from the team and give them an opportunity to learn their craft and be a part of this league.”

Bickerstaff said USD will always be a special place and it's up to all Toreros to keep the pipeline going strong. “It’s a great group of guys we have in the league. They are so talented, they have a great skill set and they’re all good people. We’ve got to help those who are behind us. We should help the program, get behind the staff, the athletics department, even if it means just being a sounding board. We should be there for them. We owe USD a great deal.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

View a photo slideshow of USD's NBA Toreros in action as players and coaches for USD.

Photo of Bernie Bickerstaff (top right, is courtesy of Noah Graham/Getty Images — it may not be copied, reprinted or reused elsewhere. Getty Images owns all rights to the photo)

Contact:

USD News Center
news@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4681