MEMPHIS – It’s fodder for a fairytale coaching story.
Consider the details: a guy waits a lifetime for a head coaching gig – then gets all of 30 minutes to let it sink in. Meet Glynn Cyprien, who can only smile about the … uh, timeline … that led to his being put in charge of the Memphis Grizzlies’ NBA G-League Iowa affiliate last January.
When he talks about it now, the smile is big enough to tie a bow around the back of his head.
“I thought my coaching days were over,” said Cyprien, a longtime college assistant who had spent four years scouting for the Memphis Grizzlies.
He retains that front-office title, but this season remains on the bench of the G League farm club. The newly-minted Memphis Hustle make their home in the Landers Center in Southaven, Miss. – just 20 minutes down Interstate-55 from FedEx Forum.
The expansion Hustle open their inaugural regular season with a two-game home set over this weekend against Sioux Falls on Saturday and Salt Lake City on Sunday. It represents a new beginning for players and a revival of sorts for the first head coach in Hustle history.
“I told all the players and staff it’s like you’re auditioning every day,” Cyprien explained. “But being here, where you have access to the Grizzlies coaches and players, you use the same practice facility and weight room, it’s a huge advantage. You also get to sleep in your own bed.”
That’s a far cry from last January, when Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace dispatched Cyprien to evaluate an Iowa team that was sputtering through a 17-game losing streak and a 2-19 start.
“I get up there to take a look around,” Cyprien recalled. “And I get a call from Chris, who said, ‘We’re going to name you the coach in 30 minutes.’”
In that instant, Cyprien thought about how, after nearly two decades as a college assistant, he recently started to settle into a comfort zone in the role he had with the Grizzlies since 2014. In fact, Cyprien admits he turned down jobs the past few years to go all-in on his front-office position.
“I didn’t think I wanted it anymore,” Cyprien said of initially mulling Wallace’s offer to return to the bench. “I wanted to spend time with my kids. I thought I was done with the whistle, and I fought it for a couple of minutes. But I knew … this is my calling.”
That’s not to say he didn’t have some trepidations about it.
“First time in Iowa I get into a game, the players are looking for me to draw up a play,” Cyprien said. “And when you haven’t done that in two years … you’ve just got to be ready to roll.”
The team would only win 10 games under Cyprien, but he points to the fact that the Grizzlies signed Wayne Selden (who had been a camp signee with Memphis), and that former Grizz Troy Williams was picked up by Houston. Both are still on NBA rosters. Jarell Martin, now the Grizzlies’ starting power forward, and Deyonta Davis also spent considerable time in Iowa working with Cyprien last year.
“We had players on that team that were only looking for their own stats,” Cyprien said. “But I was telling them that there are certain things you have to bring to an NBA team, and they’re not just numbers. They want to see if you will defend, play the right way offensively, play together and play for each other. Troy and Wayne did that, and I can point that out to the guys now.”
Cyprien’s path as a recruiter, player development coach and basketball executive has carried him through positions at Kentucky, Texas A&M and two seasons with the University of Memphis (2009-10).
During a stint under Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, he helped groom Tony Allen, a player still near and dear to the hearts of Grizz fans, and whose jersey will be retired at FedExForum when he retires.
“Glynn brings a passion for player development and played a pivotal role in the growth of our young players at Iowa last season,” said Wallace, who adds that Cyprien and Hustle GM Chris Makris “understand the strong culture within our franchise.”
Cyprien also impressed during his stint as the coach for the Grizzlies’ NBA Summer League team, which reached the semifinals in Las Vegas last July.
A 51-year-old New Orleans native who played two years at Southern University at New Orleans, Cyprien said he’s going to approach the Hustle job as if he were a college coach because many players who pass through the roster will likely be the age of a college student.
“Most of the players are still young enough and impressionable enough, you can get on them and teach them,” Cyprien believed. “Not just basketball, but the growth part of it as well … how to travel, how to look in hotels and treat people.”
Over the summer, as the Hustle began their marketing campaign, Cyprien was literally the face of the franchise at several events. That will continue. With a personable style and an ever-ready, boisterous laugh, he’s a good focal point.
“The reception has been phenomenal as we’ve worked to sell season tickets and get the word out,” Cyprien said. “We plan on doing a lot of charity stuff in the area, and getting the message to (DeSoto) County that this is their team.”
Falling in line with a number of NBA teams that moved their G League affiliate into close proximity, the Grizzlies will be interacting with Hustle players and coaches on almost a daily basis. The advantages go far beyond not having to shell out thousands of dollars for plane tickets to move players back and forth.
“Our guys get a chance to watch, learn and work with Grizzlies’ players and coaches,” Cyprien said of the learning opportunities extend to his office as well. “My staff and I are down the hall from Grizzlies coach (David) Fizdale and his staff. There isn’t a day I’m not asking a question of Coach Fiz or his assistants.”
Cyprien also knows his job is not just developing players but also helping the parent club development improved strategies.
“We’re the guinea pigs,” Cyprien pointed out. “If Coach Fiz wants to try something out to see how it might work with his team, he’ll ask us to try it at the G League level and suggest tweaks that we see to make things better. That’s exciting.”
Above everything else, coaching at this level has taught Cyprien the virtue of flexibility.
“You can go through shootaround on the morning of a game, get a call and suddenly have two or three players catching a plane for Memphis, or wherever the Grizzlies are playing,” Cyprien said. “And you adapt, because it’s just part of the job.”
And it’s that ability to adapt that had Cyprien hustling to accept this unique opportunity to coach again.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace and/or Pete Wickham are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.