It almost seems like destiny for Tyrone Corbin to have success as head coach of the Utah Jazz. From the days he played for A.C. Flora High School, to his time at DePaul University, to his 15- year career in the National Basketball Association; Corbin has had the benefit of learning the game from legendary coaches.
His basketball career began as a member of a strong Falcons’ squad that won the 1981 state championship. Highlighting the roster along with Corbin was Xavier McDaniel.
“He wanted to win everything,” Corbin said of McDaniel. “He played hard. In my opinion, that was why he was such a good high school and college player. Then he went on to be a great pro player because of his toughness.”
While there was a lot of talent on the floor, it was head coach Carl Williams who made sure the team fulfilled its potential, both on the court and off.
“He was extremely difficult to play for if you weren’t doing the right things on the floor or in the classroom,” Corbin said. “He held you accountable for not only the basketball stuff, but for being a good person on campus and being a good student in class. If you made any slipups in any area, he made you pay for it on the basketball court. He always let you know that he cared about you as a person more than just a basketball player, and he held you accountable on both sides.”
Despite all the motivation that Corbin had on the court to be a great player, it was someone outside of basketball who gave Corbin all the motivation he needed. It was his mother.
“She went to work hard every day to support her family. To see her work that hard every day made me want to work extremely hard to be able to someday reward her and not have her work so hard.”
College recruiters took notice of that work ethic, and a performance at a summer basketball camp further enhanced Corbin’s status as a top recruit. Following the advice of Williams, Corbin took all six visits that he was allowed, three before the season and three after. In all, Corbin visited Georgia Tech, Memphis State, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Tennessee Tech, and DePaul.
Ultimately, it was DePaul that provided Corbin the best opportunity. While the Blue Demons were ranked No. 1 in the country, it wasn’t just their top rating that appealed to Corbin. Coach Ray Meyer’s uptempo style of play fit what Corbin liked to do on the basketball court. DePaul also offered Corbin an opportunity to major in computer science while also offering a large market, Chicago, for Corbin to work in once he graduated. One last perk was a consistent opportunity for his mother to see him play on television. Long before the time of ESPN offering large contracts to different conferences, WGN aired Blue Demon basketball games.
During Corbin’s time at DePaul, the Blue Demons made it to three NCAA tournaments. His best memories are playing against teams like Georgetown, St. John’s, and Notre Dame. The one year that Corbin didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament, he led DePaul to the NIT.
While in college, Corbin had an opportunity to participate in the 1984 Olympic Trials, where he learned from another legend, Indiana head coach Bob Knight. During the trials, Corbin practiced three times a day. He recalls Knight looking over the practices from a tower. It was during his time at the Olympic Trials when Corbin found himself facing the best competition in the country; it was also the first time where he realized he belonged with that group.
According to Corbin, having the opportunity to work with two hall of fame coaches helped him prepare for the NBA.
“Just the differences between great coaches and great minds, the determination they coach with, the accountability they hold their players to, the intense level they coach at, and their inspiration to play every minute you are on the floor, the importance of playing from one minute to the next minute to the next minute, understanding the game, and how you had to stay focused on every little part of the game to be effective to those coaches helped me for the NBA.”
In 1985, he was the 35th pick in the NBA draft, selected by the San Antonio Spurs. Corbin considered it a great opportunity to further his basketball career and support himself. His performance during the summer league gave him confidence that he would earn a spot on the roster. The summer league provided him an opportunity to adjust to the NBA game and make the changes necessary to perform at the pro level. Following stints with the Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, and Minnesota Timberwolves, Corbin was traded to the Utah Jazz where he would team up with hall of famers John Stockton and Karl Malone.
“They competed hard every day at practice, and when the game was on you knew they were going to be there doing what they needed to do to help you win. You didn’t want to disappoint your teammates and those guys by letting up any. They inspired me to play harder because I knew they were going to compete at such a high level.”
Along with Malone and Stockton, Corbin was able to learn from another hall of fame coach in Jerry Sloan. According to Corbin, Sloan really stayed on his players to be effective and play hard every minute they were on the floor. He would put the players in a position to win.
During his three years as a member of the Utah Jazz, Corbin was part of two teams that made it to the Western Conference Finals. Both times the Jazz came out on the losing end, first to the Portland Trailblazers in 1992 and then to the Houston Rockets in 1994. Despite the outcome, Corbin was glad to be a part of that experience.
“To be one of the final four teams in the NBA playing is exciting. To get to the conference finals is a tremendous high because every play is such an important play, and every possession is such an important possession. It’s so intense.”
Over the course of Corbin’s 15-year NBA career, he played for 11 teams.
“I sit back and think that I had a chance to play against Dr. J, Kareem Abdul- Jabaar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and a whole slew of hall of fame guys. Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, and seeing these guys on television and then to have a chance to compete against them on the floor was a tremendous accomplishment.”
It was near the end of his playing career that Corbin decided he wanted to become a coach. Following his retirement after the 2000- 2001 season, Corbin spent two seasons as a player mentor with the Charleston Lowgators of the NBDL and then as a general manager for the New York Knicks during the 2003-2004 season.
Following the end of that season, Corbin went to the Utah Jazz and served as an assistant coach for Sloan. It was the Jazz’s loyalty toward the staff and the class in which the Jazz conducted business that attracted Corbin back to Salt Lake City. Having spent 15 seasons as an NBA player served Corbin well as an assistant.
“I have a feel for what kind of emotions they go through over the course of the season. It’s such a long, long season, and there are so many games. The guys’ bodies are beat up at times, and physically, they can’t do what they used to do when they were fresher. Their minds are worrying about their matchups and different things. I can relate to a lot of the emotions they go through because I’ve been through those same things myself.”
In February of 2011, the Utah Jazz faced a feud between Sloan and point guard Deron Williams. On February 10, the feud ended with Sloan’s resignation resulting in Corbin being named head coach. The Jazz traded Williams to New Jersey 13 days later, and Corbin was left with a team in need of leadership.
“It was nerve racking in the beginning. There were so many things I had to take care of, and the games were continuing to come. Trying to get the guys on the same page, getting a staff together, preparing the guys as well as we can, and getting myself in order was nerve racking in the beginning, but I learned a lot from it. We learned a lot from each other, and we’re moving forward.”
The Jazz were 31-23 when Sloan resigned; they finished with a record of 39- 43.
Following the conclusion of the 2010-2011 season, Corbin and the rest of the NBA faced uncertainty. On July 1, the NBA locked out the players in a six-month stoppage.
According to Corbin, at first there wasn’t a lot of concern over the lockout, but as the summer months moved into September and October, and team camps were being cancelled, he along with the players became more concerned because the stoppage of the season threw them off of their normal schedule. The lockout ended December 8, and the season began. The normal 82-game schedule was shortened to 66 games.
The Jazz finished the regular season 36-30 and clinched the number eight seed in the Western Conference for the NBA playoffs. They lost four games to none to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Despite the loss, Corbin believes the experience will pay off.
“I think this experience for us, although we lost to San Antonio in four games, is invaluable going forward with this young group of guys. Until they go through it, it’s hard to always talk about it and not have them completely understand it. Now they have a better understanding of what we’re talking about. We’re making a lot of progress. The guys are learning more every time we step on the floor. As we develop our young guys, we are able to compete now. It’s a great mix for us.”
Even with the demands of being a head coach, Corbin is still able to keep up with DePaul University and A.C. Flora basketball. He was especially surprised that the 2011-2012 Falcon basketball team broke a 20-year winless streak in the playoffs. He credits head coach Leon Brunson with putting together a strong team.
Corbin was inducted into the DePaul Hall of Fame in 2005.
Next Week: Ridge View’s Brian Quick
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