LAS VEGAS -- The NBA Summer League finished up in lovely Las Vegas last week with the Dallas Mavericks leaving Sin City with a 4-1 record during the exhibition schedule, but head coach Monte Mathis was really hoping to leave Sin City with a flawless record.
"Winning is always important to me," Mathis told SB Nation. "Of course development is nearly equally as important, but I coach every game wanting to win."
Mathis, serving his third stint as the head coach of the Mavericks' Summer League squad as he continues to gain experience on the NBA bench, knows that every opportunity -- even in Vegas -- is important to the next step in his coaching career as he continues to spend time under the tutelage of head coach Rick Carlisle.
"First and foremost, I wouldn't get the chance to do it unless Coach Carlisle had the trust in me to run the team so I have to give thanks to him for giving me the opportunity," Mathis said.
"It's just awesome being in that first seat and running the practices because you really get a different perspective as a head coach," Mathis continued. "I know it's only Summer League, but it's really different from that second and third seat over because you're looking at the game from a little bit different perspective. There's just a lot of things going on in your head that you don't normally think about when you're not the head coach."
Mathis is well aware of the things one thinks about from further down the bench, too, as his coaching career has taken him all over while paying his dues on the basketball coaching circuit.
Following a playing career that saw him spend time at Kansas under Larry Brown before transferring to Toledo and eventually playing a few seasons of minor league baseball with the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, Mathis endured a pretty extensive due-paying process.
Mathis began his basketball coaching career in the early '90s as an assistant coach at a Cincinnati high school before moving on to stops as a graduate assistant at McNeese State, a season under Bill Musselman at South Alabama as well as stops at Toledo, Ohio State and Xavier before eventually beginning his career with the Mavericks as a video coordinator.
The Ohio native ended up spending four seasons with the Mavs in that capacity before moving up the ladder to player development coach, then as an assistant and finally the team's de facto defensive coordinator this past season (a position Dwane Casey held before being hired as the Toronto Raptors head coach last season).
It would seem he's taking the long way to being an NBA head coach -- at least compared to some of his "former NBA player" contemporaries -- but the son of former NBA referee Mike Mathis is grateful for every chance he gets to move closer to the ultimate goal of heading his own team.
Even if it's only as the team's Summer League head coach, that's an opportunity he's taking advantage of, too. In fact, he seemed almost giddy at the chance while talking to SB Nation after his team's 82-76 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to end their Summer League schedule.
Mathis pointed out that his assistants -- longtime NBA player Darrell Armstrong, current video coordinator Mike Shedd and Texas Legends' assistant Travis Blakely among them -- helped him out tremendously, too, as the team attempted to acclimate draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James with the Dallas system.
"One of the most important things at Summer League is focusing on our new guys -- our draft picks, some of the guys that we might have in camp -- and just helping them learn the Mavericks' system and finding out how they fit," Mathis said.
"Whether it's defensive principles, offensive spacing or just some of the different calls that we use, we're trying to get these guys used to our system so by the time we get to veteran camp they've got a little bit of a head start," Mathis said. "They're going to be behind the 8-Ball anyway so there's always going to be that learning curve, but we want to use Summer League to have them as ready as possible."
Along with the players, though, it seems that Mathis himself is getting as ready as possible for the next step in his coaching career -- a career Mavs' All-Star Dirk Nowitzki recently said would be full of promise.
"He's got a great combination of energy, passion and smarts," Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News. "I think he's going to be a great coach sooner or later, whether it's in the league or in college. He knows his stuff. But he can also bring it over. He's behind it. He can fire troops up, motivate. I think he's going to be a great coach."
He certainly looked the part while paying his dues last week in Las Vegas.