NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

'Don’t ever get drunk on success': How Thunder assistant Mark Daigneault grinded his way to the NBA

Thunder Buddies: NBA schedule drop
Coach Mark Daigneault during the Oklahoma City Blue media day Nov. 10, 2014. [Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman]
Coach Mark Daigneault during the Oklahoma City Blue media day Nov. 10, 2014. [Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman]

The game had ended hours ago, but Mark Daigneault still sat in his office with Michael Frazier.

This was before Daigneault’s five-year G League stint as head coach of the Blue and his transition to Thunder assistant coach last month.

He was a Florida assistant, coaching under Billy Donovan. And Frazier — then a Gators underclassman, now a Rockets guard — was in a shooting slump.

“Don’t ever get drunk on success,” Frazier remembers Daigneault telling him, “because when you get drunk on success, you have a hangover, and this is what the hangover feels like.”

Daigneault joins Donovan’s Thunder staff this season after serving as his right-hand man in Daigneault’s final seasons at Florida. He made the move from Gainesville to Oklahoma City a year before Donovan. The two briefly re-lived their former coaching dynamic in 2016 when Daigneault filled in for Thunder assistant Mo Cheeks while he was out due to hip surgery. But Daigneault remained committed to the Blue. Until now.

Daigneault began his four-season tenure with the Gators as a graduate assistant — he earned a master’s degree in sports management from Florida after serving as an assistant coach at Holy Cross for three seasons. Donovan promoted him to assistant to the head coach in 2012.

“He never changed,” said Arizona State associate head coach Rashon Burno, who served as a Florida assistant in 2012-15. “He was still the same person that would get in super early, still spend 20 minutes reading books and trying to figure out ways to get better. And so he did that from the first time he was there to the last date he was there. He never got enamored or caught up with all the trappings of being Billy’s guy.”

Daigneault’s promotion aligned with the beginning of Frazier’s college career.

Frazier, who the Rockets signed out of the G League in April, was already one of the country’s most accurate 3-point shooters (46.8 percent) his freshman year. But he credits Daigneault, and their workouts between Frazier’s first and second seasons, for his sustained success.

“The time that we spent together he helped shape my mentality to where I didn’t get affected by a missed shot,” Frazier said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “He helped me with my footwork, things like that, reading screens. Just so I can become a better shooter all in all.”

Frazier wasn’t the only player Daigneault had that kind of effect on. Burno said Daigneault used a metered approach. He’d give players a long leash in the summer and then come back with statistics to show, for example, why a specific big man should cut back on his 3-point shots. Daigneault explained that tactic with a metaphor too. He’d remind Burno that he only has two bullets in the chamber; don’t fire them all in September.

“He’s a phenomenal teacher,” Burno said, “and I think that’s so underrated.”

Frazier returned to Florida his sophomore year to break the program record for 3-pointers in a single season (118) and the SEC record for 3-pointers in a league game (11 at South Carolina).

That’s not, however, the first thing Frazier brings up when asked about Daigneult’s influence on him.

“He helped me develop as a man with the time that we spent together,” Frazier said, “and that’s something that has really allowed our relationship to grow and allowed me to trust him and really look at him as a mentor and a friend.”

Daigneult left after Frazier’s sophomore season, but the two stayed in touch. Daigneult was also busy launching a new era of Oklahoma D-League basketball. The Thunder had just moved its affiliate from Tulsa to Oklahoma City and re-named the former 66ers. Daigneault led the Blue to a 28-22 record that season. But the next year, the team slid back in the standings.

That also happened to be the season Donovan took the Thunder head coaching job and Daigneault added David Akinyooye, who also was promoted to Thunder assistant last month, to his Blue staff.

“We had a successful three seasons,” Akinyooye told The Oklahoman two weeks ago on his way to Daigneult’s wedding (an event, combined with his honeymoon, that kept Daigneault unavailable to comment for this story, per a Thunder spokesperson), “but that was probably my favorite and best season, even though we had a losing record, because it just showed the resiliency of the staff, which he led, in regards to not putting our heads down. If you came to one of our practices, you would have no clue if we won five in a row or if we lost five in a row.”

Because of that, Akinyooye speaks of that 19-31 season fondly.

“I know it probably hurt him a little bit,” Akinyooye said of Daigneault, “but for me, I really enjoyed that because it just showed that I could really go to war with this guy, and he’s still going to push us to be great.”

The Blue has won at least 28 games in each of the three seasons since.

This past year, OKC tied for the best regular-season record in the G League (34-16). On the way, Daigneault and Frazier reunited on the court. The eventual 2019 G League Most Improved Player returned to the G League after one season in Italy and another sidelined by injury.

Frazier doesn’t always say hello before games to opposing players or coaches he knows.

“If it’s a relationship like I have with Mark, then yes, of course,” Frazier said. “Because that’s my guy. He’s known me since I was a kid, so I feel largely indebted to him because a part of me feels like I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him.”

Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›