NBA champ continues to chase his coaching dreams

Greg St. Jean '09 is learning at the game's highest level — and bringing home the hardware while he's at it.

Brian Muldoon
December 21, 2020
Phillips Exeter Academy Basketball Greg St. Jean 09

Greg St. Jean '09 celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in the locker room after the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th title in franchise history.

Greg St. Jean '09 found himself learning in an exciting classroom this year.

No, he wasn’t locked in Zoom lectures or working on a thesis, he was just busy helping the Los Angeles Lakers win their 17th NBA Championship. St. Jean, who is a player development coach and advanced scout for one of the most storied franchises in sports, made his return to the NBA sidelines in 2020 in what the most bizarre season in league history.

“It was an amazing journey,” says St. Jean. “It was a fun year, a challenging one with the pandemic ... but to be able to learn from some of the best in the league and cap the year of with a championship was an incredible experience.”

After jobs with the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings, St. Jean spent four years on the bench with Hall of Famer Chris Mullin as an assistant coach at St. John’s University. When Mullin stepped down after the 2019 season, St. Jean was presented with an opportunity to get back to the NBA.

“Last year was an opportunity to pivot back to the NBA and chase my dreams of becoming an NBA head coach," he says. "I knew I wasn’t going to have the same role and responsibility as I did at St. John’s right away, but I wanted to go somewhere to be around people who I can learn from. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to be in a situation where I’d constantly feel stimulated and grow.”

The Lakers coaching staff and players — including superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis — were not the only familiar names that St. Jean came in contact with last season; he reconnected with Duncan Robinson '13, a current starting forward of the Miami Heat, during the NBA Finals.

“My respect level for Duncan Robinson is through the roof," St. Jean saya. "As a player, as a person, as a worker, he’s someone I have an immense amount of admiration for and our relationship has grown over the past few years. It is pretty cool for both of us. He’s accomplishing his dreams on the court and I’m trying to chase mine on the sidelines.

"We both have a tremendous amount of pride in Exeter and everything the school and the basketball program has done for us. We bumped into each other in the elevator and joked that we can’t be friends for the series. It is amazing for me to tell you how much we talked about Duncan in our coaches meetings and our players meetings; he’s a pivotal player in the success of the Miami Heat.”

St. Jean’s responsibilities include watching opponents and finding their strengths and weaknesses and building a report to share with Lakers coaches and players. He has to find the answers to the test before the exam is even passed out and present those answers to some of the best basketball players in the world.  

“I need to be clear, concise and confident in my presentation. It is similar to the Harkness table. Every day when you go to class at Exeter, you have to be prepared. You want to build trust with your classmates around the table that you are doing your work and can contribute to class. Preparation builds confidence. When I’m prepared, I’m building trust with our coaches and players.”

St. Jean has spent his life on the court and basketball is in his blood — his father, Garry, was an NBA coach and general manager for more than 20 years. It is clear that his focus on preparation comes from a deep passion and love for the game.

After graduating from Exeter, St. Jean was a four-year player and three-year captain at Wesleyan University before quickly jumping into coaching, where he has excelled at every stop. He was the youngest member of any NBA coaching staff when he was an assistant player development coach with the Sacramento Kings in 2014-15, and was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches “30-under-30” honors list of promising young coaches while he was at St. John’s in 2018. That kind of success comes from a tireless work ethic and surrounding himself with bright people from around the game.

“Exeter is such a special place to me," St. Jean says. "It is a huge foundation for who I am. The basketball fraternity that Coach Jay Tilton and (former Big Red head coach) Coach Malcolm Wesselink have built over the years is made up of a special group of guys. You know that when you meet a fellow Exeter basketball player. They are good people, they are intelligent and they are motivated and driven to attack their dreams, because that’s the type of guys they want in their program. I’m so fortunate to be a part of that group. I’d give anything to go back to be a student at Exeter again.”