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How Kenny Atkinson helped new G League coach get his start as a player and a coach

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Shaun Fein, who had had a solid career at Georgia Tech, didn’t get drafted in 2001 and so decided to hone his craft in France with a team in Nantes. Midway through that first year, the team decided to bring in a back-up point guard.

Fein was having a great year, winding up with a 20 point-per-game season as a combo guard. But he knew he had a lot to learn and the new guy, Kenny Atkinson, could help.

“He kind of took me under his wing,” Fein told Tom Dowd of the Nets official site. “He was at the latter stages of his career and I was just beginning mine.

“I think as a first-year player, as an American, you’re in a foreign country, you don’t really know anything. I didn’t really know the language at all. He had been over there for a while, could speak the language. I was in my apartment playing PlayStation, after practice would just go home.

“He kind of got me out of my comfort zone; ‘hey, we’re going to go out, we’re going to go have dinner’ and things like that. Kind of showed me how to live life as a basketball player in Europe. I was really appreciative of that.”

Fein went on to a successful 13-year-old career in France and even acquired dual citizenship.

Now with Fein as the Nets G League coach and Atkinson the coach of the big club, the two will be having a lot of meals again. The Nets announced last week that he was replacing G League coach of the year Will Weaver, his latest success since joining the Nets three years ago. (Weaver is not the head coach of the Sydney Kings in Australia.)

Fein talks, in fact, about how Atkinson also was a big help when he stepped off the court in France and into coaching. He first worked with Atkinson (and Nets assistant Jordan Ott) on the Dominican Republic’s national team staff in 2016, the year before Atkinson joined the Nets. Then, when Atkinson came to Brooklyn, he got Fein to join with him again, this time as a video coordinator. Fein had worked for a year with the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics G League team.

“It gives you a chance to learn the league, because you’re breaking down so much film, you’re watching so many games,” said Fein about the video job. “So you see what all the teams are doing offensively, defensively. I think that it’s an advantage that you spend some time in the video room, because you see things that, if you weren’t in the video room, you didn’t take the time to look at all that stuff.

“It’s definitely a grind. You put in a lot of hours, but I think it prepares you for that next step.”

Last season, he moved up a notch to working in the team’s development program, where he worked with Dzanan Musa as well as two-way players Theo Pinson and Alan Williams.

Musa called Fein “amazing” in an interview with NetsDaily earlier this year. Musa traveled with Fein daily to the Long Island training facility in Nassau County, and he described Fein as a trusted coach and “a guy you want to have around all the time,”

Fein liked his role, he told his hometown paper, the Cape Cod Standard-Times, and laid out the key element in that process and now in his G League job.

“The big thing with player development is establishing trust with the player,” Fein told reporter Steve Derderian. “Those guys just worked hard. Yeah, I helped them, but if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t have gotten any better.”

Now, of course, he’s in the lead job with Long Island. That’s a big difference and he knows it.

“I’m going to be a first-time head coach, so there’s going to be a lot of challenges for me,” Fein told Dowd. “But I’ve played basketball my whole life. I’ve been around this organization for three years now since Kenny came in. I know how he wants things done. I think that’s the biggest thing with the G League team, we’re going to mimic what we do in Brooklyn so we can have that seamless transition when guys are going back and forth so there’s not time that Brooklyn coaches have to teach, ‘hey, this is what we do.’ No, we already know what we’re doing. I think that’s super important.”