PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. – Eight years in the NBA is impressive. Eight years in the NBA G League is rare.
“I’ve done it eight years now and I’m one of the longest tenured assistant coaches, if not the longest, in the league,” Northern Arizona Suns Associate Head Coach Tyler Gatlin said.
Gatlin is the ultimate NBA G League veteran, spanning eight years across the league working with three teams. Now the top assistant for the NAZ Suns, the 30-year-old continues to see more opportunities for himself every year.
It started in 2010, when he graduated from the University of San Diego. Gatlin went back to his hometown in Dallas, Texas, and like any graduate, he was looking for a great opportunity to begin his career. He soon found one in professional basketball with the Texas Legends.
“I started on board as kind of an intern with Nancy Lieberman and I joined in halfway through the season,” Gatlin said. “It was kind of a get to hang in the shadows, watch practice, creep onto the court every now and then and start building relationships with some of the players that I had been familiar with because they were from the Dallas area.”
The BIG3 touts Lieberman as becoming the first female head coach in men’s professional sports this year, signing on to coach their Power team, but she had already coached men’s professional sports many years ago, as Gatlin well knows. The former WNBA player and coach was the head of the Legends from 2010-11.
Gatlin credits Lieberman for getting his foot in the door, but things really took off for him that next summer, when 1994-95 NBA Coach of the Year Del Harris took over the Legends.
“(Harris) threw me into the fire being the video guy. He was used to the NBA and how it worked, so he really challenged me to take control and to do video, which is something I had no experience doing,” Gatlin said. “That helped me a lot. I was able to get really close with our assistant coaches David Wesley and Scott Fleming. In particular Scott Fleming because that carried over to the next summer where we’re just working players out all summer long. I’m learning more drills and player development that I can implement, that I still implement today.”
Lieberman got Gatlin his start, Harris got him the video experience, and Fleming helped him with learning of drills. There was just one more thing Gatlin needed experience in – coaching. This is where 12-year NBA veteran Eduardo Najera stepped in.
“(Najera) really just allowed me to take a big role in coaching, video scouting – I was doing stuff that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do at that point. Him and I worked together for three years and by the end of the third season, he had full and complete trust in me,” Gatlin said.
With that trust, Najera even had Gatlin coach a game himself for the Legends.
Fast forward to 2017, and Gatlin was ready for another year as an assistant coach under Ty Ellis. Both had worked under Chris Jent in Bakersfield before spending the NAZ Suns inaugural season together, Gatlin as a member of Ellis’ staff.
Plans changed when Ellis got called up to be an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns the day before training camp started. In turn, Gatlin got to lead the NAZ Suns that whole week. The opportunity to be a head coach for an extended period of time showed him he is ready for the next step, whenever that may come his way.
“I’m just pumped to have that opportunity and I think it’s a testament to my experience and what I’ve done and the success that we’ve had developing players and getting good recommendations from players, coaches, front office people,” Gatlin said. “All of that works to my favor.”
Now in the NBA G League offseason, Gatlin isn’t taking a break. He loves the grind and wants to keep getting better as a coach, so he has stepped into a new role with the Phoenix Mercury.
Gatlin is the Director of Player Development and Video Coordinator for the Mercury, an expanded role from his first year. Last season he handled video responsibilities while a member of the practice squad, along with acting as a special assistant to head coach Sandy Brondello.
The Mercury are always one of the top teams in the league, and with key additions made this past offseason, Gatlin might return to Northern Arizona with a championship ring.
“Obviously we have some once-in-a-generation type players with Diana [Taurasi] and Brittney Griner. What I’m doing with the Mercury is something special. I’ve been looking forward to it all year throughout the G League season, and now we’re here,” Gatlin said. “We’re really focused. The season comes quick, and over the course of the next three months, there’s a lot of games and a lot of excitement, and once that comes to a close, new opportunities will open up for the following winter.”