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Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins caps Summer League with title

Updated July 15, 2019 - 10:07 pm

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins concluded Vegas Summer League on Monday night by hoisting the championship trophy high above his head at the Thomas & Mack Center — and shaking hands with all his players, who smiled and applauded behind him.

“This is why I do what I do,” Jenkins said. “I love to compete. I love to teach. We have a great group of guys and our staff off the court. It was so much fun to work with them.”

Even more fun to win with them.

Jenkins, in just his first month on the job, guided the Grizzlies to the Summer League championship Monday night, a 95-92 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the proverbial prize for the weeks of preparation and play.

Head coaches usually delegate Summer League duties to an assistant or two, but the 34-year-old Jenkins immersed himself in his new team — hoping to create the championship culture that Memphis is eager to restore after triggering a rebuild by trading cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley earlier this year.

It’s not an NBA championship, of course.

Far from it.

But it’s a start, and Jenkins for one is excited about building the franchise with such new cornerstones as Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant and Vegas Summer League MVP Brandon Clarke, who had 15 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in the finale.

“It’s a huge head start, from guys that are going to be in Grizzlies uniforms, or (G-League affiliate Memphis) Hustle uniforms,” Jenkins said. “We want to build something special in Memphis. We’re not going to wait (until) October. We’re going to do it now and the foundation we laid is super important to me.”

Jenkins was hired away from the Milwaukee Bucks in June after serving in 2018-19 as an assistant under reigning NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer. He started coaching in the San Antonio Spurs’ organization in 2008, and followed Budenholzer to the Atlanta Hawks, with whom he worked from 2013 to 2018.

He speaks fondly of those stops, and said they were formative in helping him become who he is now — at age 34, the second-youngest head coach in the NBA.

“I’ve been blessed to work with unbelievable people,” he said. “I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for them. … I’ve learned so much, and hopefully it’s preparing me to be a successful head coach. I look forward to the task at hand and the challenges ahead.”

So far, so good.

The Grizzlies under Jenkins posted a 6-1 record at Vegas Summer League, and played an unselfish brand of basketball on both ends of the floor. They bypassed good shots for great shots. They passed, cut and screened for one another, and communicated on the defensive end — recording stop after stop Monday night while building a 17-point lead against the Timberwolves.

Minnesota rallied in the fourth quarter, but Memphis remained relaxed — like its head coach — and executed enough under pressure to take home the title.

“All of us fit perfectly,” Clarke said. “It was just really fun playing for him. He’s just a really really great coach. Every day he was up to play hard and up to get us better.”

On now to the regular season.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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