Eight months ago, Adam Caporn was in Tokyo celebrating his country’s first-ever podium finish at the Olympics in men’s basketball. Caporn was an assistant coach for Australia’s Bronze Medal run at the 2020 Olympics, a program he has worked with for years in a developmental role.
A mere six weeks later, he stood in a gym in Brookville, Long Island at the side of his new General Manager, Matt Riccardi. Caporn was reserved as he watched over local tryout players vying for a roster spot on the Nets’ G League team. That day’s media availability was our first time meeting.
Seven months after that and after the Long Island Nets season ended, we sat down together at a cafe in Brooklyn. By then, a comfort level had set in. It’s his personality: calm, but highly competitive. The G League is an ever-changing environment, he emphasized, one where your roster is changing on a weekly basis which brings about loads of challenges. So calm is required.
“Capes,” as he’s referred to by the team, saw his first season as Long Island head coach mired by a slew of injuries, frequent roster changes, and off-court absences. The coach himself had a bout with COVID-19 back in December, forcing him to miss the NBA G League Winter Showcase. Despite all the distractions the Nets finished with one of their most successful seasons in franchise history, notching their second-ever postseason appearance. Caporn was named the Coach of the Month in February, being only the second-ever Long Island coach to win the honor.
With the year over, the 40-year-old Aussie re-joined the Nets’ coaching staff back in Brooklyn at the HSS Training Center to help with Brooklyn’s short-lived playoff run. The transition was easy. “The programs are genuinely aligned,” he says of Long Island and Brooklyn. That alignment is a product of the work put in to make the development of Two-Way players as seamless as possible as they alternate between the two Nets teams. Apparently, it works for coaches as well.
And as for personal growth, being in the NBA environment was helpful as well. Put simply, part of his job moving is just to “is to grow as a coach,” he told me over coffee. It’s the next step for a young coach who ran Australia Basketball’s Centre of Excellence, the hotbed of the Boomers’ development program.
Most NBA coaches’ schemes and philosophies can be described succinctly. Some push for fast-paced, modern, offenses that rely heavily on generating as many good looks as possible. Others opt for a slower, more methodical approach, both on offense and defense.
The backbone of Caporn’s philosophy is what he calls the three “big three rocks:” vision, growth, and process. Vision is all about asking, “‘Why are we all here? What are we trying to achieve?’ The G League is a great environment to assert such questions, Caporn tells me, because ‘players are there to get better.’”
Next is growth. To grow and develop as a team takes work on a day-to-day level. In the G League, “we’re here to get better,” Caporn says, which goes for each and every member of the organization. “You know, so much of sport is outcome-related. And of course, we’re here to win. And that’s what outside is focused on, fans and things like that, and you appreciate that interest. But we just need to be proud of the work we do, that’s all we can really control.”
Patience is often the key to success. It applies to basketball development too. “All we can do is what we’re about to do right now — have a good practice.” Then another and another. For a G League coach — or a development coach on a national team — that’s how players get better. Same with coaches.
The final rock is process. “My job, ultimately, is to simplify the complex,” Caporn summarizes, saying that it is his job to instill good habits within players, whether it is working with them on new lineups and combinations or finishing a game out in a clutch moment.
Caporn used the end of Long Island’s season to talk about how his philosophy applies to game action.
The year ended in a loss to the higher-seeded Delaware Blue Coats in the first round of the G League playoffs — a loss Caporn called “good experience,” despite being disappointed in his team’s execution in the single-elimination match-up. The Nets had held their own against Delaware in the regular season and learned from their losses. Ultimately, Delaware’s defense forced too many Long Island turnovers, allowing for easy transition baskets on the other end.
“They run they made the back half of the second quarter, we weren’t able to stop and that was the determining factor in the game,” Caporn recalls, as a late fourth-quarter push proved fruitless. The Blue Coats would advance all the way to the G League Finals where they would fall to the champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Caporn and his team almost didn’t get there and that taught the newly minted head coach a lesson as well.
After losing to the Capital City Go-Go (the G League affiliate of the Washington Wizards) in their last game of the year, the Nets’ only path to clinching a postseason appearance was on the final night of the season with some help from other G league squads. Luckily for Caporn and Co., The Westchester Knicks and Grand Rapids Gold both lost their final games of the year, with the Gold crumbling in the final minutes.
“I had a moment where I thought it was over, and I was really disappointed,” he remembers. His players kept track of the scores from home, but “Capes” couldn’t pull himself to watch the games. He instead spent the night out to dinner with his wife, hoping to distract himself from the fate of his season. Unsuccessfully, he admits: “and then I was score-watching the whole time.”
The next day, the team was back at it at their practice facility in Westbury; “It was great seeing the playing group next morning, we were all super excited to play again.”
That night of score-watching encapsulated the Long Island season: ups and downs followed by adjustment, adjustment, adjustment. It’s something that Caporn relishes.
In February, Long Island rode the backcourt of Craig Randall II, one of those local tryout players from the beginning of the season, and former NBAer Ty Wallace to an 8-2 record. Randall II would be named Player of The Month, the first such player in Long Island franchise history, the same day he was named Coach of the Month.
But then, Wallace was called up to the NBA, receiving two 10-day contracts with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Randall II missed a slate of games due to undisclosed personal reasons. Brooklyn rookies David Duke Jr. and Day’Ron Sharpe were sent over to the affiliate team, but Duke immediately suffered an ankle injury.
Caporn and his staff pivoted, countering with new a lineup featuring two big men sharing the floor, Sharpe and Thon Maker, who Caporn knew from Australia and who had 263 games of NBA experience, an extraordinary number for a G League player.
“Thon had been shooting the ball well, is a versatile player, and can defend the perimeter and inside. And Day’Ron had shown an ability to step out shoot as well,” he explained. “And we were searching for something in that period a little bit. So the combination of those guys… we wanted to have them both on the court and we — like lots of teams — had significant lineup changes. That was something we thought could work and did in stretches and then Thon got hurt as well.”
Another component of the Nets’ adjustment was the use of their 3-2 zone defense, which I watched Caporn implement in practice throughout the regular season. “Three! Three!” would echo throughout Nassau Coliseum as Caporn held up three fingers, denoting to his defenders that they needed to shift away from their man-to-man assignments.
The strategy proved most vital in Long Island’s final game of the regular season against Capital City in an attempt to mount a comeback in a low-scoring contest that got away from the Nets late. “Although it was pretty positive, just wasn’t something I wanted to overuse,” Caporn said of the zone’s use over the year. “Mostly because it’s not that useful a development tool in a steady diet, but it’s a useful development tool in bite-sized pieces.”
His biggest accomplishment his first year, other than making the playoffs, was probably the development of Randall, who Long Island signed after two other G League teams passed on him following tryouts. He went on to average 26.7 points, second in the league, along with 5.5 boards and 6.3 assists with three games of 40 or more points. He also led the G League in 3-pointers.
“I thank Matt Riccardi and Coach Capes almost every time I get a chance to for the opportunity,” Randall told the New York Post.
Caporn is now back in Brooklyn as the big team holds workouts for NBA Draft prospects in hope of identifying future on-court contributors, some of whom will wind up in Long Island next season. When fans will see him on the court next? The coach told NetsDaily that he plans to contribute to Brooklyn’s Summer League run in Las Vegas this year “helping on the floor” in some capacity.
As for a return to Long Island for the 2022-23 campaign, Caporn says that he’d “love to be back,” but doesn’t have a good answer just yet. “It’s going to be a discussion with our leadership,” he says of Brooklyn’s front office. It’s worth noting that while G League teams see lots of turnover on their roster, the coaching staffs often change as well. Longtime assistant coach Jimmie Oakman, the only veteran of multiple seasons with Long Island basketball, is likely to take over to lead the bench in the coming season.
Caporn’s other passion is continuing to contribute to the Australian national basketball team. Australia’s 2020 Olympics run was led by Patty Mills, who was reunited with his coach this year in Brooklyn. The two also share an alma mater, St. Mary’s in California.
Capes has overseen the development of a myriad of young Australian players, including Thunder All-Rookie guard Josh Giddey and Mavs guard Josh Green. He’s keeping tabs on them at the NBA level, too. You can expect to see Caporn back on the sidelines for his native country in the future, specifically at the upcoming World Cup later this summer and the 2024 Olympics.
One year in, Adam Caporn isn’t ready to grade himself just yet. He’s thankful for his great coaching staff and the leadership of the Nets organization. He told me he thinks they did “okay” in his first year but maintains that the team fell short of their goals, his goals. But no matter whose bench he’s on next season, he’ll be looking for a group of players that’s invested in self-improvement, because that’s when he’s at his best.
“When they’re hungry to get better, coaching is really fun.”