HoopsHype recently talked to Canadian basketball coach Roy Rana, who currently serves as an assistant coach on the Sacramento Kings while also being the head coach for the Egyptian men’s basketball team.
The 53-year-old Rana has also been the head coach for the World Team at the annual Nike Hoop Summit an astonishing 10 times, leading the team to victory in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018. Among the names he has coached while serving in that role are Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, two of the frontrunners for NBA MVP over the last two seasons, as well as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
This interview was edited for clarity.
How does one get to coach Nike Hoop Summit once, let alone 10 times?
Roy Rana: Yeah, it’s amazing. Well, I was an age group coach, doing a lot of grassroots stuff for Nike when I started, I don’t even remember the first year. And Coach George Raveling at Nike saw something in me, and Mark Bayne, who was our Canadian rep at Nike, kind of floated the idea of, ‘Hey, the Hoop Summit is going to be looking for a new coach for the World Team. Do you think this is something you’d be interested in?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, absolutely. I don’t know. Is that even possible?’ And I said, ‘Well, why don’t we give it a try.’ And my name was kind of pushed forward.
If it wasn’t for George Raveling, I don’t think I’d ever had this opportunity. He’s a supporter, he’d kind of watched me work and was somewhat of a fan at an early time in my grassroots career, my international career, and he certainly backed me and gave me that first opportunity. And I think we had the right intention, we’ve treated the event the right way. And obviously, we’ve had some success along the way. And he’s been very loyal, they’ve been great. Relationships are very important to them. And they’ve treated me in a first-class manner all along the way. And every time they’ve asked if I can continue on, I’ve put my hand up and tried to give as much as I can to the event so I’m extremely thankful and it’s unbelievable that I’ve been able to do it 10 times. I never thought I could do it once. Yeah, it’s great.
So you obviously enjoy the experience. How much time do you have to spend with the players before the actual game every year?
RR: We typically spend about five days with the kids. I would say it’s probably kind of in and around that time of four or five days of preparation time and just kind of hanging out and getting to know them and doing some team-building. So it’s become more like a short FIBA window now with what it’s become as opposed to just going out there and playing the game. But it’s been powerful enough that you can prepare and really get to know the kids. Obviously, a little different than your average All-Star event.
When you first saw Nikola Jokic, what did you think of him?
RR: To be honest with you, I thought he was a nice player, but I never thought he would become who he is. Now, you know, he showed some flashes. But he clearly wasn’t a dominant player from start to finish at the Hoop Summit. I think he was an acquired taste. And I wasn’t advanced enough to be able to see the greatness that was in him at that stage in his development and his growth. So you know, full kudos to Denver and their staff to be able to kind of take a bet on him and then watch him grow and help him develop because he’s clearly one of the great stories of the Hoop Summit.
But I will tell you that there weren’t too many people in the gym when he first got going that would have thought he’d become what he is today. So I was impressed by him just like every other player. But he didn’t stand out in any way that would make me think that he was going to be a future MVP.
What about what Joel Embiid and be the first time you saw him?
RR: It was really in some ways very similar, because a year before he was at prep school in Florida, not even playing. And from what I remember, he might have even been a late addition to the group and he came in it was obvious had some real physical skills. It’s tough with big guys, it’s tough to really project because, in some ways, they’re still very much in the developmental phase, even physically. But what he did have is he did have all of those great personality characteristics you need, like a sense of humor. He was very witty, he was very engaging, just a great guy to be around. We had a lot of fun together, I got a chance to travel with him. Joel and I still stay connected. We talk every once in a while, we’ll stay connected. We’ll get in touch with each other. So it’s been amazing to watch his growth as well. Again, did I think that he would become who he is now? No, but I’m certainly not surprised with how engaging he is as a young man and it’s great to see. Both stories are incredible. They really are.
We have to put you on the spot here. Who's your pick for MVP between Nikola and Joel?
RR: Probably the best thing that we can do is, you know, it’s been done before. So I think let’s get co-MVPs.
So through coaching the Nike Hoop Summit, was there a player that you thought was going to be a star that you got to coach that maybe didn't pan out as well as you thought they might?
RR: I really thought that Sergey Karasev, the Russian kid that we had, was going to be a guy who played in the league for a very, very long time. He got in, he had a short stint, and obviously, he’s now doing big things back in Europe.
Dante Exum – and I loved Exum – I thought that he would have a very long and successful career but injuries really plagued Dante. There are just so many things that go into this; we can’t predict how good a player will become and then we can’t predict all of those things that will be around a player may challenge him in his career.
So, you know, sometimes there are great success stories. I think, actually, all of them are great success stories, but our culture is only appreciative of superstars. And if you just look at the number of players that have become really, really good players around the world, guys like Evan Fournier, Dennis Schroeder and what he’s done, Gabriel Deck, who’s now back in Europe. So there are just so many success stories, they’re all a little different. Unfortunately, for some of them, I think injuries are the real factor that really kind of hampered development and growth.
If we take it the opposite direction, who's a guy that you didn't expect to amount to so much or didn't expect them to become as big of a star as they are now?
RR: I’m not sure about as big of a star but I never thought Raul Neto would become what he has and stay in the league as long as he has. He’s a very sneaky quiet success story of the Hoop Summit. He came in, wasn’t a big name, found his way to the NBA. And now I think he’s going on close to 10 years in the league. So great one there.
The biggest surprise of them all has to be what Jokic has done, but then again, even Shai Gilgeous-Alexander when he was here, a fellow Canadian, when he was here at the Hoop Summit, it’s impressive to see what he’s become. I mean, he’s absolutely become one of the best, brightest young talents in the NBA now. So that’s pretty exciting to watch as well.
Speaking of Canadian players, so what happens next, in your opinion, with the Canadian national team? Obviously, they're the second-best country in the world talent-wise. But sometimes, the Canadian team has trouble recruiting their own players, and maybe they don't live up to their talent when they play on the court together.
RR: Well, hopefully, we figure it out. Hopefully, we figure it out and we get the right talent on the floor and we kind of achieve what we need to achieve. Yeah, it’s been a disappointing few years at the senior team level for sure. And now we’ve got to breakthrough. So hopefully we figure it out and can break through that kind of glass ceiling and become clearly one of the top countries in the world because certainly, our talent is there.