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Timing was perfect: Frank Vogel found the right mentor at the right time

Frank Vogel in 2014 Photo: Public Domain

Are you aware of Frank Vogel’s humble beginnings in big-time basketball?

It all started at the University of Kentucky, where then-Wildcats coach Rick Pitino played a pivotal role.

Years later, the Los Angeles Lakers’ new coach fondly looked back on how he got his foot in the door.

“I was a big fan of Rick Pitino’s approach and I wanted to try to talk my way or persuade my way into an opportunity,” Vogel told Sheridan Hoops in a 2013 interview. “I enrolled, got admitted and when I met Rick at Five Star basketball camp I had been writing letters to an equipment manager about trying to be a student manager and I was getting a lot of ‘No’s,’ and I was getting a lot of ‘No’s,’ in letters from the coaching staff. Rick told me to keep talking to the equipment manager and see if you can make something happen. If you can’t and you end up coming down, come see us and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

It worked out.

In 1995, Vogel became a basketball manager for Kentucky, setting him on his career path.

More importantly, he learned how to analyze the game as an assistant video coordinator at Kentucky.

That eventually led to a five-year stint as head video coordinator for the Boston Celtics.

How did that happen?

Vogel, now 46, joined Pitino when the latter bolted for Beantown in 1997.

Paying his dues

Indeed, Frank Vogel paid his dues and learned the ins and outs of the coaching profession along the way. More than two decades later, it’s interesting to revisit that coaching journey from Kentucky to the NBA.

Since 2010, he’s been a head coach, leading the Indiana Pacers (2010-16) and Orlando Magic (2016-18) after previous stints as an assistant with the Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Pacers.

The Lakers handed the coaching reins to Vogel a few weeks ago.

Entering the 2019-20 campaign, Vogel owns a 304-291 regular-season coaching record, including a career-best 56-26 mark in 2013-14. The Pacers made back-to-back trips to Eastern Conference finals, doing so in 2012-13 and the next season with Vogel calling the shots.

Dedication to the job

Vogel’s career path was recently recounted by the Lexington Herald Leader. The newspaper report gave readers an inside look at Vogel’s early days in the profession while working under Pitino.

Ex-Wildcats player Cameron Mills vividly remembered Vogel’s persistence as a young man to establish himself in basketball.

Lexington Herald Leader writer Jerry Tipton reported the following:

“As Mills recalled, Vogel’s job with video included splicing together a 15- to 30-minute tape on an upcoming opponent’s offense, another 15 to 30 minutes on the defense and five or six minutes on a particularly dangerous individual opponent’s favorite moves.

“Mills remembered Vogel put together a legendary’ 45-minute tape on Tennessee star Allan Houston.

“Vogel slept only a few hours each night, Mills said. He usually fell asleep with the movie ‘Hoosiers’ playing in the VCR. He also compiled a book of quotes for when he or anyone needed inspiration.

…It was inspiring to be around him,” Mills said.

What else was unique about Frank Vogel’s younger days involving basketball?

As a junior high school student, Tipton wrote, Vogel “appeared in a stupid human tricks segment on David Letterman’s late-night show. His trick? Spinning a basketball on one end of a toothbrush while he brushed his teeth with the bristled end.”

Lesson from Pitino

Vogel’s time on the University of Kentucky basketball staff might’ve been quite short, but it was pivotal in his development.

Which is why he credits Pitino for influencing his career.

“Work ethic and belief,” Vogel said, referring to two big things, in a 2013 interview. “Showing a player that you believe in him can really (help him) overachieve for his talent level.

“And not only the work ethic, but how you prepare. How you go about coaching a team day-to-day and the work ethic of studying an opponent inside and out, studying yourselves inside and out. How to run practices. To be exposed to that level of greatness, it’s just meant everything to me.”

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