SAN ANTONIO — For 11 seasons, Utah's head coach, Will Hardy, called San Antonio his home as he sat at Gregg Popovich's side on the Spurs bench learning all he could.
But after a stint with Boston, the Jazz hired Hardy as their new head coach ahead of the 2022-23 season, but Popovich's influence still resonates with him.
"Massive mentor and influence on me and my family," Hardy said before the Spurs played the Jazz in preseason action. "11 years in San Antonio."
In his first full season as an NBA head coach, the 34-year-old Hardy will be leaning on his time learning from Popovich as he takes a Jazz team in a new direction after the team traded All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to begin a rebuilding effort in Utah.
He's also taking over for another former Spurs coach, Quin Snyder, who guided Utah to numerous postseason appearances.
That may be more than enough for Hardy however he thanks Popovich for showing him what it takes to make it in the NBA which should help him in his rookie coaching season.
"He taught me obviously about basketball but way more about managing people and leadership," Hardy said. "Really making sure the focus is just about the people."
"Sometimes we get, as coaches, we can get up caught up on the technical and tactical side of the game," said Hardy.
Before Hardy left San Antonio, he was already seen as an up-and-coming NBA head coach. In 2020, New York had him on their shortlist and interviewed him for the Knicks' job. Some even pegged him as the heir to the Spurs' head coaching spot once Popovich retires.
But Utah sees a young coach ready to take the helm of a young Jazz roster and he got the job over established names.
Hardy was hired over qualified candidates such as Frank Vogel and Terry Stotts.
That is a sign of how much Utah believes he is the right person for the job.
He has multiple years under Popovich's tutelage, served as an assistant coach in Boston as well as an assistant coach on Popovich's staff with Team USA in 2019, which all but makes him more than ready.
"At the end of the day, our role as a head coach is managing the players and the staff as human beings first," he said. "He's been an unbelievable example of that for a long time."
SPURS GET FIRST PRESEASON WIN
The Spurs snapped their three-game preseason losing streak after beating the Utah Jazz, 111-104, on the road Tuesday night.
Devin Vassell had 24 points (10-of-15 shooting) to lead the team while Keldon Johnson added 22 points in his first preseason game after a shoulder injury he suffered in open gym before the official start of training camp.
Tre Jones finished with 11 points and four assists. Josh Primo added 10 points in his preseason debut.
The Spurs (1-3) will next face the Thunder to close out their preseason slate.
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