Warriors feature

How Warriors assistant is making history with Bahamas basketball team

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Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco didn’t have much time to celebrate back home, but even through the phone, he still was beaming with pride Thursday night. 

DeMarco recently coached the Bahamian men’s basketball team to the country’s biggest win in the sport’s history Sunday night by beating host team Argentina, 82-75, in their 2024 Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament final. The victory earned the Bahamas a spot in one of next summer’s qualifying tournaments for the Paris Summer Olympics.

Taking down Argentina on their own turf was historic for multiple reasons. The Bahamas has never qualified for the Olympics in men’s basketball. They haven’t done so in the FIBA World Cup either. This was the country’s most significant win yet and the odds were against them. 

The Bahamas beat Cuba and Argentina in group play before defeating Uruguay on Saturday to reach the final game on Sunday. There, they outlasted Argentina for the second time in five days. Argentina is a basketball behemoth. Since 1992 when the Dream Team was formed, Argentina is the only country outside of the United States to win an Olympic gold in men’s basketball.

To DeMarco, though, this win -- this opportunity -- was a long time coming. 

“It's just been years in the making,” DeMarco told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday night in a phone interview. “There's 45 million people in Argentina and there's 400,000 in the Bahamas. It’s smaller than all of Sonoma County to put it in perspective, and that's a basketball powerhouse. 

“They’re fourth in the world. And to go there and have the resilience and the focus to beat them twice in Argentina, it's just incredible. The players showed poise when it mattered, they answered all their runs. The focus was tremendous.”

Eric Gordon used his one-time switch going from representing the United States in the 2010 World Cup to now playing for the Bahamas in their hopes for the Olympics. DeMarco is reaping the rewards, too. Gordon scored 27 points Sunday against Argentina on 8-of-13 shooting and 6 of 7 from 3-point range.

Deandre Ayton struggled offensively, scoring 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but his hustle on the glass grabbing 21 rebounds – 16 on defense and five on offense – was key to the Bahamas staving off Argentina. The tournament was Ayton’s first time playing for DeMarco, and also alongside Gordon. The two teamed up in another way over the summer when Gordon signed a two-year, $6 million deal to become part of the new-look Phoenix Suns.

The two also won’t have to wait long to see DeMarco again. The Warriors and Suns open the 2023-24 regular season at Chase Center on Oct. 24. Both teams have championship aspirations and will want to make a statement. DeMarco undoubtedly will want to scheme ways to slow down Ayton and Gordon offensively, and expose them on defense. 

But the night also will be a great representation of a brotherhood and the dreams of an entire country. 

“We're not the only national team, right?” DeMarco said. “I think plenty of teams and coaches deal with this. The NBA is a fraternity. You want players you coach and even players you play against to get better. You want them to be the best versions of themselves.

“Having success together like that means a lot outside of just the NBA. I understand Deandre and Eric obviously play together in Phoenix, but I think it was really special for us to have a common goal and for us to achieve it.” 

Ayton and Gordon are household names, but a majority of the Bahamas roster is filled with unbelievable stories. One of them also has a Warriors connection. Starting power forward Travis Munnings played three games for the Warriors summer league team in 2021. Munnings’ seven points Sunday were the same amount that Indiana Pacers starting small forward Buddy Hield scored. 

“He’s the perfect role player,” DeMarco said. “He’s a guy I think should be playing in the EuroLeague and will eventually get there. He just stepped up big time for us. He’s just a high-character guy, one of our leaders.” 

Another one of DeMarco’s favorite stories is Lourawls Nairn. The 5-foot-10, 28-year-old played four seasons at Michigan State where he averaged 2.5 points and 3.0 assists per game for his career, from 2014 to 2018. Nairn never played in a pro league and currently is an assistant coach at Bowling Green State University. 

The Nassau, Bahamas native hasn’t played for five years but is the starting point guard for his country’s national team. 

“He’s just a phenomenal leader,” DeMarco said. “He’s got a ton of heart and he just hounds the ball defensively.” 

Following the win Sunday, DeMarco didn’t get back home in the Bay Area until Tuesday morning. The Warriors coach then had all of two days to enjoy a breath of downtime before getting on another plane. By late Thursday night, he landed in Los Angeles where he met Warriors stars Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney. Thompson’s famed “China Klay” is coming back for a seven-day tour. Looney, a fellow Anta athlete, and DeMarco are joining him for the first time.

From afar as DeMarco led the Bahamas in Argentina, Thompson was supporting DeMarco and his fellow Bahamians as he often does. Klay’s brother, Mychel Thompson, is on DeMarco’s staff. His father, Mychal, was a two-time NBA champion, the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft and also born in Nassau where he grew up until being recruited as a teenager to move to Miami for basketball. Thompson throughout the tournament was making sure the love was felt on his Instagram stories. 

The entire Thompson family has exuded honor in the national team. The present is benefitting, and DeMarco believes the impact will be felt even more in the future. 

“It’s been like that since Day 1,” DeMarco said of Klay Thompson. “Klay’s done a ton for this program. He’s been phenomenal with how he represents the Bahamas. His interest in Bahamas basketball and all sports, it means a lot to have that support. I’ve known him 12 years now and obviously work closely with him. 

“Then to have his brother Mikey on staff, who … we got everything we could out of him as a player. Mikey spent the last three years playing. We got everything we could until he retired and moved to the coaching staff. Their father, Mychal, and even their brother Trayce, it’s just been wonderful to talk Bahamas basketball. And it’s not just the men’s senior national team. It’s the junior team coming up. We have a lot of talent there, and same with the women’s team. 

“It’s ridiculous how much talent there is in the Bahamas. I’m just glad that we could start to showcase it a little bit and there’s some interest in it.” 

DeMarco essentially had two weeks to get his squad ready to keep their Olympic goal alive. Training camp was held in Puerto Rico, where they played Kansas in two exhibition games and then the tournament began a week later. Quick camaraderie was essential, and eating all meals together was a must for everyone to form enough trust in a hurry. 

He’ll soon find himself in a similar position, pushing for ways the Warriors can make trust their top priority again, and chasing something bigger than themselves. It’s how his most recent team reached this point, and DeMarco isn’t alone in envisioning what’s next for basketball in the Bahamas.

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