Leading the Kings’ court
As head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Mike Malone, ’94, is the first Greyhound to lead a professional team
Two weeks before the start of the 2013-14 NBA exhibition season, new Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Malone, ’94, sits in his team office pondering a life that almost wasn’t.
The basketball-crazy New York native only needs to look back on the year after graduating from Loyola, when he was a volunteer assistant coach at Michigan’s Oakland University. But passion couldn’t pay the bills.
“I was working at Foot Locker and I was cleaning office buildings from midnight to four o’clock in the morning,” recalls Malone, who by then had given up hope on a coaching career. “I said to myself one day, ‘What am I doing?’ I felt like a ship out at sea with no direction. I was just kind of out there, and it bothered me.”
Like others in his family, he decided to become a cop. Malone, a history major and sociology minor at Loyola, was training to become a Michigan state trooper when providence, literally, tossed him an assist. Then Providence College head coach Pete Gillen, who knows Malone’s father, a longtime NBA assistant, offered him a paid position with the Friars.
“Life is funny,” Malone says.
In a fast break worthy of LeBron James, he was back in the game. It’s a journey that has taken him to hardwood across the map. After three years at Providence, Malone was an assistant at Manhattan College for a year. His big break came in 2001, when the New York Knicks took him on first as a coaching associate, and then promoted him to assistant.
He went on to become an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets, and the Golden State Warriors before being named head coach of the Kings in June. He is the first Loyola graduate to lead a major professional sports team. The Kings, meanwhile, have struggled to win in recent years.
Malone arrives with plans to energize his players (“I want guys who hate to lose”), but he also brings distinction: NBA general managers named him the league’s best assistant coach in 2012.
“It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least,” Malone says of his arrival. “We’re the only show in town, so all eyes are on us. I want to be like the San Antonio Spurs, who year in and year out have success at a high level. That starts at the top.”
He’ll be put to a test in Sacramento. The Kings ranked at the bottom of the NBA last season in points allowed and third to last in field goal percentage. For Malone, a makeover starts with defense, a skill he embodied with academic-like zeal during his four years playing point guard for the Greyhounds.
Joe Artuso, assistant athletic director for sports medicine at Loyola, says he isn’t surprised by Malone’s rise, and he doesn’t doubt his ability to bring change to the Kings with sensibilities formed in part by his playing days in Baltimore.
“We went through some tough times, but that’s what he learned from,” says Artuso, who was a Loyola athletic trainer at the time. “Mike was always positive and upbeat going through that. He was a hard worker and I’m sure he’ll be successful.”
Malone ranks 11th in Loyola history with 279 assists. During his four-year playing career, he also scored 370 points and tallied 79 steals.
“It was not the career I would have hoped for, but at the same time looking back, Loyola was a great opportunity and a great school and I met some great people,” Malone says. “It was a perfect fit for me, and it’s definitely helped me as I plug along to where I am today.”
Three months into his latest job, Malone’s bare office walls don’t yet tell his Sacramento story. The lone accessories are two plants and a pair of white boards that lay out last year’s team statistics, numbers that translated into a woeful 28-54 finish.
Malone keeps his office lights off. “I like to operate in the dark. It’s a more peaceful work environment for me to get my job done.” But, if all goes as planned, Malone and the Kings will one day be in the spotlight.
Malone’s father, longtime NBA head coach and assistant coach Brendan Malone, once urged his son to steer away from the coaching ranks because it’s hard on the family. But the junior Malone would have none of it. He’s even hired his father as an assistant.
“This coaching business is insecure, to say the least,” says Malone, who has two daughters with his wife, Jocelyn. “My oldest daughter Caitlin is 8 years old and we’ve moved five times already. It’s a nomadic lifestyle, but when you love something and have a passion for it, you’re going to find a way to be involved.”
These are heady times in Sacramento. The city earlier this year successfully fought to keep the Kings from relocating, and there are plans to open a new downtown arena in 2016. In September, former Los Angeles Laker star Shaquille O’Neal bought a stake in the Kings.
As the regular season approaches, life couldn’t be better for the rookie head coach.
“I haven’t lost any games yet,” he says with a laugh.