When his pro playing career ended after he appeared in five games for the Timberwolves last season, veteran guard John Lucas III knew exactly where he wanted life to take him.
Into the family business.
His father, John, has coached 12 years in the NBA, most or all of six seasons as a head coach. Included were four seasons in the 1990s when he coached San Antonio and Philadelphia and hired a young, ambitious assistant named Tom Thibodeau.
“I’ve known Thibs, it seems like forever,” said Lucas, who was just 9 when they first met.
So when it became clear that his playing career was over after he played for six NBA teams in parts of eight seasons, Lucas turned down a couple of other opportunities and returned to the Wolves, this time as an assistant coach focused on player skills development.
He said he did so to work with Thibodeau, for whom he played parts of two seasons in Chicago and part of another in Minnesota.
“I always felt like I wanted to learn from one of the best coaches there is around,” Lucas said. “I want to pick his brain about every little bitty thing because I do want to be a head coach one day. Why not be around somebody who has done it on multiple levels? As an assistant, as a head coach and now being a head coach and a president of a team.”
A nationally ranked tennis player in his youth, Lucas chose to pursue basketball instead, starting when he was a college freshman. A No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in 1976, his father, too, played tennis and basketball and was an All-America in both at Maryland. He chose the latter professionally, just as his son would do many years later, by embarking first upon an NBA playing career sidetracked by drug and alcohol abuse.
“I always knew what I wanted to do when I couldn’t play anymore,” he said. “That was something my dad always told me: You’re not going to be able to play forever, so what do you want to do after basketball because you’ve got a whole other life to live, too. I knew I wanted to stay involved in basketball, either coaching or player development with younger guys.”
Lucas already has worked in player development with his father’s John Lucas Enterprises that both instructs young players in its basketball resources program and counsels addicted pro athletes with its aftercare program. His father returned to the NBA last season as the Rockets’ player development coach.
“I’ve been around the game, giving my knowledge that I’ve learned over the years,” said Lucas, now 34. “I’ve learned so much from the guys I’ve worked with and the different coaches I’ve played for, so why not pass it along to the next generation going into the game?”
Thibodeau coached Lucas with two different teams, appreciating him for what he knew on the floor as much as what he could do.
“He has been around the game his whole life,” Thibodeau said. “He has always been a coach on the floor. He got the absolute most out of his talent, his ability. His dad has run player-development programs for a long time, and he has been a big part of that, so I felt he’d be a natural, a good asset, for us.”
Lucas has lived much of his life in Houston, where his father’s business is still based. He was at home with his wife and young daughter in August when Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city. It spared Lucas’ home as well as those of his mother, father and in-laws on the city’s western side. But it flooded vast parts of the city farther east, and Lucas said he watched friends and peers T.J. Ford, Mike James, Daniel Ewing and Gerald Green evacuate their homes.
“Being stuck in the house for four days, then having a curfew …” he said, his voice trailing off. “The areas I used to play and go hoop at all the time were all underwater. When I went home the last time, you saw all the devastation, people cleaning out their houses as you drove down the street. I took video and it was, like, wow, people lost pretty much everything.
“Now it’s coming back along. It was great seeing the city come together, seeing all that [Houston Texans star] J.J. Watt and the Rockets and everybody did. Everybody is putting their resources together and making sure you give as much as you can. It showed the city can come together as one.”