Who is Jama Mahlalela? (Kerr’s latest player development coaching hire)

Fellow UBC graduate Pasha Bains chimes in

(Photo: Sportsnet)

Anthony Slater and Shams Charania reported yesterday for TheAthletic that Kenny Atkinson would be hired by Steve Kerr as lead assistant alongside Mike Brown.

As part of their news break, Jama Mahlalela of the Toronto Raptors organization was also announced as an assistant coaching hire on the player development side, to go alongside Dejan Milojevic, who once coached Nikola Jokic:

Beatwriter Monte Poole then followed that up with a tweet saying that Mahlalela had already begun work.

Seeing that Mahlalela’s Wikipedia states that he once starred for the University of British Columbia (UBC), I immediately hit up my long-time Dream League amateur recreational basketball league acquaintance, Pasha Bains of DRIVE Basketball.

Dream League started in 2002 with super-strong ties in the under-the-radar Asian-American basketball communities across Canada and the United States. One particular strong network is known as “IndoPak” basketball, where men of East Asian descent, particularly from India and Pakistan, would get together for tournaments. At its height, IndoPak tourneys would be held as frequently as once per month, somewhere in North America.

Bains was a legend back then and still is today, having been one of the few, if not the only, D-1 players of “IndoPak” ethnicity. He played for Clemson from 1998-2001, then started DRIVE Basketball, one of the very early youth basketball academies, in 2004.

(Pasha Bains at Clemson and DRIVE / Photos: Sportskeeda.com)

A native of British Columbia, it was no surprise when Bains told me he knew Mahlalela, let alone finding out they went to the same school.

“We went to the same college so I've known him for over fifteen years. He won student of the year at UBC an award they named after him. He's a great guy who's full of energy and positivity,” said Bains of Mahlalela.

”I had the chance to observe him run some practices with the Raptors and he was extremely professional and very detailed in his practice and development plans. You could tell how important he was to the Raptors organization. He seemed to have tons of respect from the players. He was always the loudest (all positive) and hardest working guy in the gym coach and players,” Bains added. “Even when it was raining outside he would come to the Raptors practice and say, ‘It's a beautiful day outside great day to get better’. The players would say, ’You say that everyday!’ Jama is a positive force that you could tell was a silent whisperer for a lot of the players. He will be a great addition.”

(Jama Mahlalela / Photo: UBC)

We don’t have details yet on Mahlalela’s exact role, but with Milojevic’s pedigree with coaching big men such as Jokic and Ivica Zubac, perhaps Mahlalela’s focus will be on non-centers.

“He seemed to have a lot of knowledge about the NBA game and applied that to his teaching and development plans,” Bains said. “It looked like he had a lot of knowledge accumulated in the nuances of the NBA game in terms of terminology and offensive sets: where the guys get their specific shots and how he can improve them on their roles. I saw him take that part of his job very seriously.”