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Nuggets Summer League coach Jordi Fernandez doubles as a sports psychologist

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 2, 2018

Like many coaches, Jordi Fernandez is a teacher at heart. This summer, the Nuggets assistant coach is tasked with coaching, or teaching, basketball to 16 players, many of whom have never played with one another before. The Nuggets’ practice court is his classroom.

Before he accepted a player development position with the Cavaliers in 2009, Fernandez was working towards his Ph.D. in sports psychology after getting his masters in the same field. He already has a bachelor’s degree in sports sciences. Fernandez was coaching on the side while teaching college courses in Norway when the Cavs called and offered him a full-time job on their player development staff. He’s published two articles that appear in academic journals and is one away from his Ph.D.

“When I get fired I’ll finish it,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez is applying his background as a teacher to his job this offseason as the Nuggets’ Summer League coach. Just four of the 16 players on Denver’s Summer League roster — Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Tyler Lydon and Petr Cornelie — have previously worn a Nuggets’ practice jersey. Of the remaining 12 players heading to Las Vegas later this week, four played overseas last year, six are straight from college, and two last played in the G League. It’s difficult to get everyone on the same page in just a week’s time.

“I think it’s about trusting the process. When you’re a teacher, you’re teaching in this case 16 guys, and all 16 have different learning processes,” said Fernandez. “Some people are visual, some people need to walk through it. You need to have a feel for them. You need to talk and with them, but at the same time you have a group and you have to teach as a group.”

Fernandez is from Barcelona, Spain, and played for the same club that Ricky Rubio and former NBA players Rudy Fernandez (no relation) and Raul Lopez did when he was growing up. He started coaching at 15 years old and eventually went into teaching. Education took him from Spain to Amerstdam and then Norway. While teaching, Fernandez still coached on the side and after taking the player development job with the Cavs, Fernandez was promoted to head coach of their G League affiliate, the Canton Charge, in 2014.

The Nuggets hired the now 35-year-old to Michael Malone’s staff two seasons later. While Fernandez was in player development with the Cavs, Malone was an assistant in Cleveland.

As the Nuggets’ Summer League coach, Fernandez is drawing on his experience from Canton. In the G League, there’s only a week and a half separating training camp from the start of the regular season, which is comparable to the Summer League setting.

“I have a feel for putting together a team with 10 days of training camp,” said Fernandez “… Here, it’s more challenging because there’s only five (days of camp).”

In terms of how his Summer League team will play, Fernandez is structuring their offensive and defensive philosophies in a similar way to how the Nuggets operate. He doesn’t have a Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray or Gary Harris at his disposal but will rely heavily on his guards and run sets through his playmaking bigs.

“I’m always trying to do what we do with the Nuggets. It would make no sense to do something completely different,” Fernandez said. “… We want to protect the paint, defend the three-point line, communicate to build our trust, and then offensively, we’ll try to be who we are as well, having playmaking bigs, play through them. Kennedy Meeks, Thomas Welsh, Petr Cornelie, we can play through them and with Monte (Morris) he can play a lot of pick-and-roll, Malik (Beasley) can catch and shoot, so we’re trying to make each other better, space the floor the right way.”

Fernandez is a passionate, engaged and energetic coach on the practice floor. Like Malone, he’s ultra-competitive and hopes this Summer League team embodies that same spirit.

“My main thing has always been find a way to compete. Give yourself a chance even if you win or lose,” Fernandez said. “For me, the word win doesn’t mean much. You can win a game and not be very competitive. You can lose a game and be really really competitive. At the end of the day, you want to be that team that somebody watches and is like ‘Those guys play hard and those guys play the right way.'”

Michael Porter Jr. makes appearance at practice

Nuggets first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. isn’t playing at Summer League and won’t travel with the team to Las Vegas later this week. But Porter has been around the facility and his teammates since Denver selected the forward 14th overall. Porter was working with Nuggets director of sports medicine Steve Short on core strengthening exercises while Monday’s Summer League practice wrapped up. He then went through some light shooting drills.

“It’s probably a question for the medical staff. I’m close to being a doctor but not a doctor to cure people. They know all that stuff,” Fernandez said in regards to Porter’s regimen during practice. “It’s just good to see him around. He was watching film with his teammates and is around, so even though he won’t play (in Vegas) it’s just really good him being part of it. The Fourth of July, we’ll probably take them to a baseball game. All the guys, we want them to come and build that group together.”

Porter, a former McDonald’s All-American and top-rated high school recruit, played two minutes at Missouri last season before undergoing a microdiscectomy procedure of the L3-L4 spinal discs in November. He returned for Missouri’s final two games of the season but slid down draft boards because of his medicals.


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