After a little more than three months, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers finally have their next head coach.
Vipers president Bert Garcia said Monday that the Houston Rockets, the NBA Development League Vipers’ parent NBA club, hired Nevada Smith to be the franchise’s fifth head coach.
“Frankly, we’re excited to just be turning the page to a different chapter,” Garcia said.
Smith spent the last two seasons at NCAA Division III Keystone College. The five previous seasons, he was an assistant coach at Ithaca College. He is a 2000 graduate of Bethany.
The Rockets had initially offered the Vipers’ coaching gig to Billy Lange, then the associate head coach at Villanova University, late last month. But Lange turned down the Vipers’ offer to go to the Philadelphia 76ers and be their assistant to player development.
Since then, national reports had the Rockets scouring all depths in renewing their search. Former Rocket and NBA player Ralph Sampson, who spent last season with Phoenix Suns’ player development staff, publicly expressed interest in the Vipers gig last month.
For the Rockets to take in a coach from one of the lower levels of college basketball, Garcia said, should not come as a surprise.
“When talking about the Rockets, you know they’ll probably do something outside of the box,” Garcia said of a regime headed by a bright thinker in general manager Daryl Morey. “Nevada is an up-and-coming coach, has a lot of energy. What he did in two years at Keystone, he turned that program around completely.
“The Rockets could have gone a lot of different directions, but they felt this was the best fit.”
At Keystone, Smith led the Giants to a 39-16 overall record, a 27-9 mark in conference play, and two-straight appearances in the CSAC Championship Game. Prior to joining Keystone, he spent five years as an assistant coach at Ithaca College, where the Bombers saw their best five year stretch in program history. Ithaca compiled a mark of 96-40, claiming three Empire 8 regular season championships in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and two NCAA Tournament berths in 2009 and 2011.
“To a lot of people, this (hire) may be eye-popping, but this is just part of working with the Rockets,” Garcia said. “They leave no stone unturned.”
The last two Vipers head coaches, Nick Nurse and Chris Finch, who each led the Vipers to a D-League championship, have gone on to NBA jobs following their stay with Rio Grande Valley. Smith replaces Nurse, who led the Vipers to the championship last season before accepting an assistant coaching position with the Toronto Raptors in early July. Finch, who led the Vipers to the D-League title in 2010, is now in his third year as an assistant coach with the Rockets.
Garcia said Smith is expected to arrive in Houston today and will finish training camp there. The next significant date for the NBA D-League is Nov. 1, when the 2013 draft will take place.