Basketball runs in the blood of the Abdenour family.
For Tommy Abdenour, his position as head coach of Warriors Gaming Squad can be traced back to his youth. It was during those indelible years that his love of the game was fostered, coincidentally enough because of the Warriors organization.
His father, Tom Abdenour, is best known in NBA circles as the longtime head athletic trainer of the Warriors, a role he held for 24 years. Tom’s brother, Mike Abdenour, spent over three decades as an athletic trainer with the Detroit Pistons before transitioning to the front office. Together they hold the distinction of being the first brothers to serve as athletic trainers in professional sports.
Growing up with a father and uncle whose lives revolved around the NBA naturally steered Tommy Abdenour towards basketball.
“When it’s in your family with that DNA, you just want to keep that going,” he said.
Not that he could have predicted his passion for coaching and desire to make it career would lead him to his current role — guiding a virtual basketball team in the 2K League.
So, just how did Abdenour end up here?
His path began when he served as a ball boy for the Warriors from the age of 10 all the way through high school. His duties were typical of most others with his title: distribute water and towels, grab players’ warm-up gear when they were subbed into games and clean up sweat marks on the floor.
“It was unbelievable,” Abdenour said. “Watching the world’s greatest athletes, day in and day out, live and up-close like that is surreal.”
While being a ball boy is a dream job for any boy his age, he more importantly was receiving a priceless education in basketball in the process. His position allowed him access to the inner-workings of an NBA team and its staff and players.
“It was being around some of the best coaches and tacticians around,” Abdenour said. “Seeing what they can do live like that and being able to peek into a huddle every now and then is an education like no other.”
His formal studies continued at the University of Utah, where he served as a student manager under head coach Jim Boylen, whom he had a previous relationship with from Boylen’s days as an assistant coach with the Warriors.
Abdenour eventually landed an opportunity in the NBA G League with the Grand Rapids Drive, where he spent three seasons before being hired as a video coordinator with the Santa Cruz Warriors last year in officially rejoining the organization he grew up with.
His responsibilities included gathering video of games and opponents and making edits for coaches for game-planning purposes. He was also afforded the ability to have an expanded role with the team, with head coach and former Warriors player Aaron Miles allowing Abdenour to assist with on-the-floor coaching and player development
“I was blessed for Aaron Miles to give me that opportunity,” he said.
Then came a conversation Abdenour wasn’t expecting. Kirk Lacob, the Warriors assistant general manager who also oversees the organization’s esports efforts, approached Abdenour about taking over as coach of Warriors Gaming Squad. Lacob’s thinking being he wanted to see if Abdenour could translate real basketball principles to the virtual hardwood while also giving him additional experience to grow as a coach.
“I think my jaw hit the floor. I was a little speechless,” Abdenour said. “I knew about the 2K League, I wasn’t following it super close. But I did as much research as I could. The talent itself was really good and I saw how there’s certain ways I could try to have my imprint and relate real basketball in with video game basketball.”
Abdenour noted that certain basketball concepts, specifically exploiting individual matchups on offense as well as defensive tactics such as switching off defenders, could easily be implemented into NBA 2K.
“It may not be exact apples-to-apples, but it can be apples-to-oranges where there is still fruit,” he said.
His appointment as coach of Warriors Gaming Squad came prior to Week 4 of the league’s season. The team had a strong showing to open the campaign at THE TIPOFF tournament but followed with three straight losses to start the regular season.
Abdenour couldn’t promise the players that his arrival would immediately turn things around, but he had a plan in place as to how he would attempt to get things headed in the right direction.
“The biggest thing with any coach is building a relationship with your players,” he said. “It was hard coming in later in the season as opposed to being with them from Day 1. But I think our relationship is pretty good with every player. That part 100 percent translates. It’s building a relationship and trust with them.”
Abdenour’s arrival paid immediate dividends, with Warriors Gaming squad beating Celtics Crossover Gaming followed by a win over Pistons GT the next week. They were signature wins against two teams who were sitting near the top of the standings.
“The biggest thing that I told them, regardless of play or philosophy or gameplan, it was ‘if you guys believe in yourself and believe we are a good team, the moment you do we will become a great team,’” he said. “Especially early on, I think they needed that little bit of boost in confidence, and you could tell the way we played those first couple of games we were truly believing and you could tell that we could play with the elite of the elite.”
Warriors Gaming Squad’s performance since that point can best be summed up by misfortune. They’ve lost six of their past seven games, but their margin of defeat has been a miniscule 3.3 points in those games. Abdenour’s squad has played opponents tough despite not getting the results they’ve anticipated.
Team moral remains high despite the playoffs being a longshot with three weeks left in the regular season, according to Abdenour, who adds that they are hoping to play the role of spoiler down the stretch.
There is one person in particular who will be glued to every game the rest of the way. Tom Abdenour, now retired following a career that saw him inducted into National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame, is fully invested in the success of his son and the team.
“He’s all-in right now and he’s my biggest supporter in this,” Abdenour said. “He’s now a top 2K fan, at least for the Warriors Gaming Squad.”
It’s only fitting that basketball has come full circle for the Abdenour clan.
“Seeing my dad work hard everyday and knowing I wanted to work in professional basketball fueled me,” Abdenour said. “I’ve always been drawn to it. It’s something I’ve been around and always wanted to do and be apart of it. For me, it’s my way to try to stay around the game that I love.”