SANTA CRUZ — If first impressions are any indication, the Golden State Warriors organization can expect two things from new Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Aaron Miles: (1) he will be prepared — if not over prepared — and (2) he will be professional.

Despite being in the blistering triple-digit Las Vegas summer heat, Miles decided to keep it professional for his first meeting with Warriors brass by wearing a full suit and tie. He thought his get-up would impress Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, Santa Cruz General Manager Kent Lacob and Santa Cruz Assistant G.M. Ryan Atkinson. What he didn’t know was he’d have to power walk from the Aria to the Bellagio with the sun beating down on him.

It was only about a 20-minute stroll with Lacob and Atkinson, both of whom were wearing polos and khaki shorts, but for Miles it seemed like an eternity.

He couldn’t quite remember exactly how hot it was but he does remember how he felt.

“Hella hot,” Miles joked. “We didn’t have to walk too far but it was long enough where if you’re in a suit and tie you’re sweating. So I’m walking and I’m sweating and my feet are hurting and everything.”

But neither the heat nor the aches and pains of walking up and down the winding staircases on the packed Vegas strip knocked him out of his element.

When the trio finally arrived at the Bellagio to see Kerr for lunch at Olives, he was all business. Errr…maybe business casual is more like it. Miles had prepared a booklet to help him keep on script during the interview. It had some talking points, his coaching philosophies and a few excerpts of experiences from his days as a standout player at Kansas, his time playing overseas, and his promising coaching stints at his alma mater and at Florida Gulf Coast University.

He learned very quickly that he would not need it.

“I had this whole plan. I wanted to make sure I talked about this and this and then when you get there, coach Kerr is sitting there and is coming out in some khaki shorts and a T-shirt and just relaxed,” Miles said. “All of them were so relaxed and I’m here kinda tight. I shake [Kerr’s] hand and I sit down and I’m like, ‘Ya’ll don’t mind if I take this jacket off, do ya?’ They’re like, ‘no go ahead.’ I had my book in my hand and I just set that down. We started having conversation and I was like ‘man, I’m going to put that away. We’re not even going to show that or talk about that.’ Right there, I was like, ‘man I can get with this.’”

Atkinson let Miles know the day before that the suit wasn’t a requirement for the interview but said he wasn’t surprised when he showed up in one.

“He didn’t want to be casual. He said he wanted to be professional. He wanted to be ready for the job,” said Atkinson, who first met Miles while working for the Reno Bighorns and quickly formed a friendship with him. “He took the job seriously.”

He added: “But it was really funny, man. To see him in a full suit, walking around while it’s 115 degrees outside.”

Known for his impeccable decision making while playing point guard at Kansas for Roy Williams and Bill Self, Miles admits the suit was probably not the best idea for that situation.

But, he explained, that type of professionalism and charm had gotten him this far. So why would he change now?

“That’s who I am,” he said.
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Miles admits that he wasn’t always the outgoing spirit he is today. Yet he didn’t have to look too far to find the inspiration for his genial personality either.

His older brother Mark, a class clown who brought the family together through humor, provided the blueprint. Miles said his father, Mark Sr., was slow to open up to people but was like a busted dam when he finally did start talking. His mother, Arnella, was even more reserved than his father, only sneaking in snarky dry humor from time to time. But Mark might as well have been Chris Rock 2.0. Or, maybe, Ludacris 2.0.

Miles remembers Mark busting out holiday-themed raps for the family during Christmas. Miles, as usual, was right by Mark’s side.

“I was his hype man,” Miles said.

These days Miles doesn’t need a hype man to pump up company. He does that with his cordial demeanor.

Lacob is well aware of that.

The two first met last year during the heat of the NBA playoffs. It was Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals to be exact. Miles was there supporting former Kansas teammate Nick Collison and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Lacob, the son of Golden State majority owner Joe Lacob, was on hand to witness what would be one of the greatest playoff performances of the current NBA era, as Klay Thompson nailed an NBA postseason record 11 3-pointers and helped the Warriors tie the series up at 3-all.

Miles called Atkinson wondering if he would be at the game so the two old friends could catch up. Atkinson said he wouldn’t be there but suggested Miles should meet Lacob to finally put a face to the name, which came up in conversation several times over the years.

There was no job on the line — Miles was still at Kansas as an Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Development, trying to figure out if coaching was the right path for him, and Lacob was working as Coordinator of Basketball Operations for Golden State — but that didn’t matter to Miles.

“I was never thinking, ‘man, he’d be able to hire me to coach,’” Miles said. “I was just thinking, ‘OK, it’s good people.’ I’m always into meeting good people. No matter what they do. If you’re good people, that’s what I want to be around.”

Golden State Warriors’ Manager of Basketball Analytics Sammy Gelfand, another friend of Miles and Atkinson from their days in Reno, introduced the two on the concourse of Chesapeake Energy Arena and they immediately hit it off. The conversation, which lasted a little more than 20 minutes, started with small talk about basketball but quickly evolved to family.

“We had a great conversation,” said Lacob, who admitted to being a fan of Miles while watching him lead the Jayhawks to back-to-back NCAA Final Four appearances in the early 2000s. “It was one of those things when you meet someone and you hit it off and it goes well like, ‘hey, I can be friends with this guy or I could have some kind of relationship with them.’”

Miles tends to have that effect on people.

Atkinson remembers first meeting Miles in 2010. He worked in basketball operations and was the Assistant Video Coordinator for the Bighorns. It was his first job in the business.

Miles landed in Reno after getting cut by Golden State just days before the start of the season. Typically, players that are that close to securing an NBA roster spot only to end up in the G League often come in resentful of their situation. Atkinson said Miles was different.

Miles, who entered the NBA in 2005, embraced his role as the veteran for both the young players and green front office employees like Atkinson. He dished knowledge when needed but also asked more questions than anyone else in the organization. His personality was magnetic.

He and D.J. Strawberry took Atkinson under their wing. They taught him the ins-and-outs of the professional sports world: how to act around the players, what to do on the road, and how being straightforward and honest were the biggest keys to making it.

Miles and Atkinson grew close in “The Biggest Little City in the World” before a knee injury derailed Miles’ season and eventually led him overseas. Atkinson said the two kept in touch even after Miles left.

“He showed me the ropes,” Atkinson said. “We had a talented team in Reno but Aaron was one of the guys that we all thought was going to get a call-up that year but, unfortunately, he tore his ACL… Believe it or not he tore his ACL in January and he was playing in August. I’m like, ‘wow, that’s a quick turnaround,’ but that just shows you the type of guy he is. He’s dedicated, he’s hungry and he didn’t allow those circumstances to hold him back.”

That was what seemed like a lifetime ago, but when Atkinson was asked by Lacob to put a list of potential coaching candidates together after former head coach Casey Hill stepped down, he knew whose name would be near the top.

“I was thinking about it and I said, ‘you know what? I think it’s time for Aaron,’” Atkinson said.
It was close to 9 p.m. on the West Coast when Atkinson called Miles to ask if he was interested in the job. With it being just a few minutes before midnight in Florida, Miles was getting ready to go to bed when he received the call. He thought Atkinson was calling to catch up but things quickly changed when the conversation turned to business.

Atkinson had an immense amount of faith in Miles’ ability to bring people together. Possibly, even more faith than Miles had in himself at that moment.

Just two years before landing the Warriors’ gig, Miles was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. After playing overseas for the better part of a decade, a shoulder injury finally convinced him that it was time to hang up the sneakers and pick up the clipboard. Miles said he knew he wanted to get into coaching but wasn’t sure at which level.

Coaching at the college or NBA level was the dream but coaching his four sons at the high school or AAU level would be less cutthroat.

Miles had already experienced the business side of the NBA. He was cut by Golden State during his rookie season and again five years later. He still remembers the phone call during his rookie year telling him to head to then-GM Chris Mullin’s office and the heartbreaking ring half a decade later from then-Warriors head coach Keith Smart just days before the start of the season.

“You know what’s about to happen,” Miles said. “That anticipation kills you. You go up there and they tell you, ‘you know, Aaron, you’ve done a tremendous job and I think you’re an NBA player; unfortunately, we can’t keep you.’ Unfortunately. Once you hear unfortunately or but, it’s a wrap. That sticks with you.”

But he nonetheless put himself back out there.

The fear of getting the late-night phone call was present but the drive to live out his dreams won out.

“Deep down it’s like, ‘ugh,’” Miles said. “But I think it’s one of those things where some many times fear conquers us and so when God carves out a path for you, when he opens up a door you just have to be courageous enough to go through it knowing that there’s going to be some ups-and-downs but that’s how you grow, right?”

So, with the blessing of FGCU head coach Joe Dooley and his suit and tie packed in his briefcase, Miles made a pit stop during the middle of a recruiting trip to meet with Kerr, Atkinson and Lacob in Vegas. After lunch with that trio, Miles met with more members of the Golden State front office at a Warriors’ Summer League game, picked up a cheeseburger at In-N-Out Burger and then hit the hay. There was no partying or gambling on the docket. Miles had to fly to Atlanta the next morning at 6 a.m. for an AAU basketball tournament.

For a week, Miles was patiently awaiting a phone call. He tried to keep the situation out of his head while traveling around the country and making phone calls to FGCU recruits. But every couple of hours, Miles would look down at his phone and imagine it ringing.

His phone finally did ring just hours after he had booked a flight to Dallas for a recruiting trip. It was Lacob. Miles took a deep breath, mumbled a prayer and answered the phone.

“The whole time I’m listening for the words,” Miles said. “[Kent] said, ‘you had a great interview and we like what you did,’ and when he said that I was thinking he’s going to come back with a but or a unfortunately.”

Lacob didn’t. Miles got the job.

“It wasn’t any magic formula or that we put anything together,” Lacob said. “The stars aligned in the sense that we had the idea to talk to him and then everything went well and connected and felt right. From there, it just felt like he was the clear choice.”

Lacob said the hope is Miles will succeed at the G League level over the next few years and eventually graduate to the Golden State staff.

If that opportunity comes about, Miles said he’d be ready.

And he will no doubt be cool, professional and in a suit. In the breezy 65-degree Santa Cruz weather, the scorching Vegas heat or anywhere in between.

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