This summer, Jordi Fernandez will be at the head of the bench leading the Denver Nuggets Summer League team. Whether he’s on the bench during the NBA season as a Nuggets assistant or running the show as the team’s Summer League head coach Fernandez is all about competing and creating a positive culture.
Fernandez started playing basketball when he was six years old in his hometown of Badalona, Spain, just northeast of Barcelona. It’s an area known as the European capital of basketball. He played throughout his youth and began coaching when he was 15 years old. Fernandez said when he was eligible for U18’s he realized he might want to pursue coaching as his primary focus.
“I got to the point, I’m not that good, but I really like to compete and I really like to teach.”
From there Fernandez went to school to study Sports Science Faculty right outside of Barcelona before traveling to Holand and Amsterdam to finish his education. All the while Fernandez remained coaching in his spare time as he began to pursue his PhD in Sports Psychology. At the time Fernandez was teaching in Norway and working in player development when he got a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers for a similar role.
The PhD was put on hold at that point while Fernandez worked to become an assistant coach in the G League, and eventually G League head coach before accepting his current position as Nuggets assistant. Fernandez jokes, “when I get fired I’ll finish [the PhD].”
In Cleveland, Fernandez developed a relationship with then assistant coach, Michael Malone. Fernandez worked through coahcing staffs that got fired while he survived during the LeBron-less years. Not long after Malone arrived in Denver, Fernandez was hired as an assistant coach.
Currently, Fernandez is tasked with getting a group of 16 NBA hopefuls ready to play together and showcase their talents next week in Las Vegas. He draws on his past experience in the G League and international teams to put together this Summer League squad.
“I have a feel for putting together a team with 10 days training camp [to] play 15 games,” said Fernandez. “Here it’s more challenging because it’s only five days of practice. I think it’s like trusting the process, you’re a teacher. You are teaching, in this case, 16 guys. All 16 have 16 [different] learning processes.”
Fernandez tries to establish a philosophy as consistent with the Nuggets as possible. Defensively, the Summer League team aims to protect the paint, defend the three-point line, and communicate to build trust. On offense, he wants the team to be who they are with playmaking bigs like Thomas Welsh, Petr Cornelie, and Kennedy Meeks. They aim to make each other better, and ultimately compete.
“They compete, to the point that sometimes it seems like they don’t like each other. Which is good [because] that’s how you build a competitive team,” said Fernandez. “Always find a way to compete, give yourself a chance. Even if you win or lose, the word win doesn’t mean much.”
This philosophy fits the NBA Summer League style of play perfectly. With guys who are just trying to crack a roster, it’s all about showing that you can put forth the effort to make it in the league. Nuggets power forward Tyler Lydon commented on Fernandez’s coaching style.
“It’s really fun. I love playing for Jordi,” said Lydon. “He really brings the energy. It’s high intensity everyday. I think the biggest thing he wants to do is have fun and compete.
The Nuggets are one of the most internationally flavored teams in the league, including their Summer League team. Having a young international coach like Fernandez helps promote a culture that these players feel comfortable with. Petr Cornelie compared his experience with the coach to a European familiarity.
“He really reminds me of the coaches in Europe. Always really set up,” said Cornelie. “We want everything to be clear. So that’s really cool. That’s the way coaches coach in Europe, so I like it.”
Fernandez isn’t setting his expectations any higher than having a team that works hard and competes on every possession during the Summer League.
“At the end of the day you want to be the team that someone watches [and says], those guys play hard, those guys play the right way.”
If that’s how the Nuggets are viewed when it’s all said and done in Vegas, then the Summer League will be a success and Jordi Fernandez should be at the head of that praise.