Hotlanta taps into Viking hoops pipeline
Jumping to the National Basketball Association from coaching junior varsity basketball at South Tahoe High School may seem like an unorthodox career line.
But that’s is exactly the path Erik Rasmussen has taken. As both a player and a coach for the Vikings, Rasmussen was the beneficiary of connections in the basketball world.
While he was a senior at STHS, Rasmussen was recruited by a pair of coaches who would help him gain entrance into the professional basketball ranks. Gregg Popavich, the general manager and head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and Lee Wimberley, a scout for the Spurs, both tried to lure Rasmussen to Pomona-Pitzer College and Swarthmore College when he was a senior.
Rasmussen kept in touch with Wimberley through the years and often worked with him at South Tahoe summer basketball camps.
Rasmussen then parlayed his relationship with Wimberley into landing a job with the Spurs four years ago.
“Popavich remembered me a little bit from when he recruited me,” Rasmussen said. “But I was really fortunate that Lee was really close with Popavich.”
Rasmussen left his job as the JV coach for the Vikings to take an unpaid position with the Spurs as the assistant video coordinator.
He spent one year in San Antonio before taking the same position with the Atlanta Hawks that was vacated by another former Viking cager Chris Grant.
Grant’s trip to the NBA was as equally as improbable as Rasmussen’s. After starring for the Vikings, Grant spent his college days playing for the University of San Diego.
While in San Diego, Grant met Hawks’ general manager Pete Babcock and told his eventual boss about his desire to break into the pros.
“I kept calling him every day,” Grant said. “He told me that he didn’t have any jobs at the time but to continue to keep in touch.
“Finally, he called one day and said they had an unpaid intern position. That was on a Tuesday and I was in Atlanta two days later.”
Grant quickly found the NBA wasn’t as glamourous as he had envisioned. With a nonpaying gig and nowhere to live, he spent his first couple of weeks sleeping in the Hawks’ arena, the Omni.
“The first night I slept on the floor with all the rats. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by them running over me,” he said. “After that, I slept in my chair.”
Grant spent his first couple of seasons in Atlanta breaking down film for the coaches and players before becoming an advance scout for two years. Last season, he was promoted yet again and became the assistant director of scouting, his current position.
Just as Grant quickly rose through the ranks, so did Rasmussen. After spending a season as a video coordinator, he was promoted to scouting which he has done for the past two seasons.
“I’ve been kind of following Chris’s path with the Hawks,” Rasmussen said.
Last season, almost the entire coaching staff turned over in Atlanta and new head coach Lon Kruger became a rookie coach in the NBA, jumping from the University of Illinois.
The change had the duo a little worried about their jobs, but with Babcock remaining with the franchise, both Grant and Rasmussen had reason to believe they’d survive the purge.
“Certainly security in the NBA is not in abundance, but because we were hired by the GM, I knew we’d be all right,” Grant said. “The person you’re hired by is who you are linked to in a way.
“We found out right after the season, so our fears were eased right away.”
Both Grant and Rasmussen were lucky to not only remain with the franchise after the sweeping changes, but have been able to rise within the organization as well.
Going from a video coordinator to the assistant director of scouting in just five short seasons, Grant knows how good he has it with the Hawks.
“The NBA is weird. It’s not like IBM where you get promoted according to a schedule,” he said. “People just get into it. I just stumbled upon my situation. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve moved up as quickly as I have.
“When I got here I was the young guy on an older staff.”
While the staff of the Hawks may be older, the team is definitely not. With the oldest player on the roster only having seven years in the league, both Rasmussen’s and Grant’s jobs have been vital to the success of the team.
Not only is the team a young one, the coaching staff is new to the league as well.
Rasmussen’s key task was to orient the players and coaches of tendencies of players and the teams around the league.
The Hawks are one of the only teams in the pros with two advance scouts, which allowed Rasmussen to spend time with the team and present films and reports of different players.
“I’d type up a report to give to both the coaches and the players,” Rasmussen said. “I’d be ahead of the team for a few games, but then they would catch up and I’d help the players go through the tapes and reports to help them learn the plays and what other players tended to do on the court.”
While Rasmussen was busy scouting other NBA players, Grant was off watching potential players. His main concern now that the season is over is the pending draft in June.
One thing both of them know, hard work is the way for success in the NBA, which something they learned while playing for the Vikings and Tom Orlich.
“I was extremely lucky to start with coach Orlich,” Grant said. “He taught me about winning strategy and hard work, both of which are things we are trying to stress here at the Hawks.”
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Athletes from across the globe will make their way into the National Stadium in Beijing, China, next month for the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.