DALLAS -- The last two years were great for Vance Walberg. As an assistant coach with the NBA's Denver Nuggets, he was not only doing what he loves, coaching basketball, but he also worked with one of the league's most respected coaches in George Karl.
However, despite Karl being named 2013 NBA Coach of the Year and leading the Nuggets to a franchise-record 57 wins, he was fired, leaving Walberg without a gig.
"George is about as good a guy as you could ever find. He trusted his assistants. He'd ask them for their thoughts on this or that and just took whatever he could," Walberg said. "He had a great floor presence. I absolutely enjoyed the two years with him."
Walberg, a former Cal State Bakersfield basketball player (1976-78) and longtime coach at Clovis West High, wasn't out of work long. In August he landed in Philadelphia on the staff of Brett Brown, a former San Antonio assistant under Gregg Popovich, who had led the Spurs to four NBA titles. The 76ers started the year beating Eastern Conference contenders Miami and Chicago plus Houston from the West before the young Philly team recently lost three straight.
"With Brett, it's been awesome. There's going to be some tough times. We know it. Everybody knows what they signed up for," Walberg said. "The scary part is early in the year when you knock off Miami, you knock off Chicago and you see if you do play the game the right way, move the ball and do the defensive things that you're asked to do, you do have a chance for success. But we know for us to really have a chance of winning, everything has to go perfect because there's very little margin of error."
Walberg has only been around these players for a few months, but he's already made a strong impression on guys like James Anderson, who at age 24 is already on his third NBA team in his fourth year in the league.
"He's definitely a fun guy to be around, a good coach who knows the game. He's been fun to play with and learn from. He's got a lot of neat tricks to help us do stuff on both ends," Anderson said. "I want to continue to learn the game from him and continue to play for him."
No matter whether it's been coaching high school, college or now at the professional level, one thing that has remained constant for Walberg, 59, is the pride he takes in his roots at CSUB, where he spent his final two seasons as a player before embarking on what has been an impressive coaching odyssey spanning past three decades.
"A lot of pride, I met my wife there. We're married for 31 years and together for almost 37. But I love Bakersfield. After Bakersfield, I ended up going to the Bay Area and then moved down to (Clovis West) for a longer stretch," he said. "So I was a coach in Fresno and then with Bakersfield schools and so forth, so it was really neat being back in the area."
Walberg won't rule out one day returning to the high school ranks, but admits there is a lot to love about coaching in the NBA. "The beauty at this level is it's pure basketball," he said. "Here, every day is basketball. I'll get in the office between 6 and 6:30 in the morning, be looking at film. We'll meet at either 8 or 9 (a.m.) and then on the floor. Then we're back to film, working with guys back at night or games, whatever. It's just pure basketball, which is neat."
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.