Jan 25, 2014 11:54 PM by Greg Smith
If not for a recruiting trip to American's heartland, Brian Shaw might be talking hoops on TV instead of calling plays for the Denver Nuggets.
Looking for work after seven seasons as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaw was preparing for an audition as an analyst with ESPN in 2011 when Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel invited him to Indianapolis for an informal interview.
"You're not an analyst," Vogel told Shaw. "You're a basketball coach."
During their visit, Vogel touted everything from the area school systems to the championship potential in the Indiana locker room.
Needless to say, Shaw never boarded his flight to Connecticut.
"He talked me into it," Shaw recalled Saturday before the Nuggets faced Vogel and the Pacers. "We both could help each other out in that situation. Everything worked out well."
In two seasons as Vogel's associate head coach, Shaw was instrumental in developing talented young players such as Paul George and Roy Hibbert. The Pacers advanced to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2012 and lost to the eventual-champion Miami Heat in Game 7 of the conference finals last year.
When the Nuggets needed a coach last spring, they tabbed Shaw as the man for the job.
"He should have been a head coach long before he ever came to Indiana," Vogel said. "He's a brilliant basketball mind with some of the best instincts. I think that's what separates him from a lot of coaches out there, and that's why I think he's going to have a sensational career."
By bringing Shaw to Indiana, it was an opportunity to repay a debt from six years earlier when Vogel was looking for an opportunity after the Philadelphia 76ers made changes to their coaching staff.
Shaw was with the Lakers when he got a call from longtime friend Lester Conner, who was an assistant with Vogel in Philadelphia. Conner asked Shaw if the Lakers could use Vogel as an advance scout on the East Coast.
"Sight unseen, just off of Lester's word, I went to (Lakers general manager) Mitch Kupchak and (coach) Phil Jackson and said, ‘Can we think about hiring this guy?' For $200 a game, he scouted all our East Coast opponents. That kept him involved, kept his name out there and so he always reminds me, ‘You threw me a lifeline and I threw you one.' It worked out well."
Vogel called his season with the Lakers "very important" for his career. Now in his fourth year as coach of the Pacers, he has led Indiana to the best record in the NBA and will coach the Eastern Conference during the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Shaw helped lay the foundation for Indy's success and sees big things on the horizon for his former team.
"I truly believe they're the best team in the East," Shaw said. "They know they can play with Miami and anybody else in the East. I think they're going to keep on rising."