When James Moran was a standout at William and Mary, scoring 1,324 points and swiping 145 steals (14th and 6th all-time at the school), he had aspirations for the NBA. While his playing career took him to Spain for a successful 10 year stint with top league team Gran Canaria, Moran's desire to make it into the best basketball league in the world never faltered. After he left the team in 2011, Moran decided to pursue an NBA career from a different angle: Coaching.
When the Maine Red Claws, NBA Development League (NBADL) affiliate of the Boston Celtics began their training camp in November, 2013, Moran took the first step toward achieving that goal. Joining returning coaches Mike Taylor and Tunde Adekola, along with Ron Nored, a former standout at Butler University assigned to the Red Claws by Celtics' coach Brad Stevens, Moran, along with Scott Morrison took the reigns as player development coaches for the team.
"Transitioning from being a player to being a coach, I was able to learn a lot from [Maine Red Claws] coaches Taylor, Adekola and Nored," Moran said in a nod to his mentors. "They have a lot of experience coaching, so I learned a lot from them."
In practices, Moran earned the confidence of the coaching staff, which helped him to ease into the role and have an immediate and meaningful impact on the team.
"Coach Taylor gave me a lot of freedom..to focus on each player individually [to meet] their needs, so it was really fun to have something different to work on with each player."
In addition to working with Red Claws players, Moran also had opportunities to travel to Waltham, MA to observe Celtics' practices and learn their system and pick up some pointers on what the parent club was looking for from their minor league affiliate.
Moran's work as a player development coach stood out the most when two players, Chris Babb and Chris Wright both earned NBA call-ups, to the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively. Those call-ups not only showcased the effectiveness of player development in the Red Claws system, but also led to an interesting game that stood out in Moran's mind as a coming out party for another player he had worked with, NBADL Most Improved Player Frank Gaines.
"We were in Delaware, and had just lost Chris Babb and Chris Wright, so we were down there with only eight guys," Moran recalled. "Then Abdul Gaddy got sick and Daniel Orton got ejected pretty quickly, so we were down to six."
The Red Claws would go on to lose that game, but Moran will always remember it as a testament to player development.
"I remember sitting on the bench and seeing all of the empty chairs, but it was an unbelievable game, just a shoot out. Frank Gaines scored a ton of points and it was just an interesting game to be a part of from a coaching standpoint."
This past season with the Red Claws served as a bit of a springboard for Moran's coaching career. In addition to the players, coaches are also observed in the D-League, with 28 NBADL coaches receiving NBA call-ups since 2001. Moran would like to join those ranks after spending time at the NBA level with the Celtics during their preparation for the NBA draft and during summer league.
"I was fortunate enough to be with the Boston Celtics for pre-draft workouts. I had information and a personal opinions on every player that was picked the night so for me it was a blast. It was also good to get down to NBA Summer League and see what [the Boston Celtics] do on a daily basis at the NBA level."
Even though Moran focused on the job at hand, he was still able to enjoy Portland during his time here as a coach and as a counselor at Junior Red Claws Camp.
"Being up here in the winter, you really don't get to appreciate how great of a city Portland is, but being up for the summer, it's awesome to see all of the outdoor eating areas and really enjoy the Old Port."
He also remembered how brutal the winter was this past season and how impressed he was with Portland Public Works.
"This year we had a lot of snow, but I was blown away with how efficient they were with clearing the streets and getting things back to normal."
This contrasted with things back home.
"A couple weeks after a snow storm in New York they hadn't really done anything, so it was really nice to see how quickly [Portland Public Works] got the city back up and running."
The snow removal wasn't the only thing Moran was impressed with.
"[Portland's] a great city. Its got a great food scene, a bunch of microbreweries. Its definitely a cool place to check out and enjoy for a couple months."
Moran would like to return to the Red Claws for the 2014-15 season. He enjoyed his time in Portland and his time in Boston, and believes in the symbiotic relationship between the two clubs.
"I got to understand how nice of an organization [the Celtics] are, the history they have, and that trickles down here to Portland. I hope to have another season to continue to learn my craft of coaching. Every year is a development year for me as a person and a coach so I hope I have the opportunity to come back here to the Red Claws."
Given the successful development of two NBA call-ups and several players who improved throughout the season or signed in other professional leagues following the 2013-14 season, the players and fans in Portland would be in for another exciting season if Moran does return.