Mermuys makes NBA coaching leap; Johnson nears deal

2014-07-20T00:00:00Z Mermuys makes NBA coaching leap; Johnson nears dealGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Jesse Mermuys was a backup point guard at Salpointe Catholic in the 1990s, a sub at Glendale College and a start-at-the-bottom assistant basketball coach at Salpointe Catholic, Pima College, Southern Utah and New Mexico State.

While completing his UA business degree, Mermuys worked Lute Olson’s summer camps and helped to start the Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson camps.

Mermuys’ timing was off in 2007, when he became Olson’s director of basketball operations just as Olson began a transition into retirement.

That didn’t deter Mermuys, a study in perseverance who was raised in Tucson by his grandmother, Margaret Liakos, after his mother died in her 20s and his father was incarcerated.

By 2008, Mermuys was an advance scout for the Denver Nuggets and in 2013 a full-blown member of the Houston Rockets coaching staff. A year ago he was hired as the top assistant of the Toronto Raptors.

Mermuys had his career moment last week when the Raptors named him the head coach of their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. He coached against the Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets and Rockets.

He was one of three Tucson-connected head coaches in the Las Vegas Summer League: Steve Kerr made his debut with the Golden State Warriors and ex-Wildcat center Sean Rooks was head coach of the D-League Select Team.

Not bad, huh?

Mermuys coached against Houston rookie Nick Johnson, who had a 12-point, five-rebound game, solidifying his Summer League status as one of the league’s emerging prospects.

Former Wildcat Johnson benefited significantly inasmuch as Houston was one of just three NBA teams to enter both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, giving the 2014 Pac-12 Player of the Year 11 games to audition.

He made the most of it; through Friday, he averaged 12.2 points in Las Vegas, playing both guard spots, averaging 28 minutes a game.

He had a triple-double — 15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists — against Brooklyn on July 11.

Johnson’s progress was exhibited in his 10-assist game, much of it spent playing point guard. At Arizona, as a shooting guard, he twice had six assists last season (against Rhode Island and Colorado).

The NBA Summer League isn’t just pickup basketball. The Sacramento Kings, for example, used third-year forward Derrick Williams of Arizona for three games last week.

The fallout of Johnson’s summer play is that he is likely to get a guaranteed multiyear contract in the next few weeks, which doesn’t often happen to the 42nd overall draft pick.

How far did Johnson come? He essentially already beat out ex-ASU standout Jahii Carson. The Rockets chose not to re-sign ASU’s Carson for their Las Vegas team; Carson had played five games in Houston’s week in the Orlando Summer League.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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