The high school-to-NBA pipeline is closed in the NBA, but for one notable exception: coaches.
Jimmy Tillette is the head coach at Isidore Newman High School, an elite private school in New Orleans, who is spending his summer as a visiting coach with the New Orleans Pelicans Summer League team.
Tillette, 67, is much more than a randomly-drawn high school coach. He's the winningest coach in Samford history and has a relationship with the Pelicans' brass through his coaching the sons of head coach Alvin Gentry, general manager Dell Demps and assistant coach Michael Ruffin.
Still, the Pelicans say this isn't a charity case or a returned favor. They say they're learning as much from him as he is from them.
“It’s great, because he’s got such a wealth of knowledge,” Gentry told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “The first time I watched his team practice, I was wowed by just how disciplined and really good they were run. Just to have him involved and have him here and allow people to ask him questions and get his ideas is really helpful for us. We just thought it would be a good situation, and more than anything we just wanted his perspective by observing and seeing if we should try some certain things.”
Added Jamelle McMillan, a 28-year-old assistant serving as the Summer Pelicans' head coach: “He gives great advice, and I’ve learned a lot from him this week. Obviously he coaches a very different game and some of the terminology can change and mix you up, but the principles remain the same, and he’s delivering some great stuff for us. I’ve really enjoyed him being around.”
Simply put, this would be a great experience for high school coaches to be able to do this with college staffs, perhaps with spring ball. High school coaches would gain years' worth of professional development, and college staffs would learn how to optimize their operations for the maximum benefit of high school coaches.
Of course, we live in a post-IAWP rule world and it's not clear how the NCAA would view programs "hiring" high school coaches, even on a volunteer basis. (We've reached out for the NCAA for comment.) And even if this were to happen, it would likely be only a matter of time before it became explicitly outlawed when Alabama "hired" the entire IMG Academy staff.
Still, the Pelicans have struck on a great idea here that would greatly benefit college and high school football coaches as well... even if it's not realistic.