WALTHAM, Mass. -- Austin Ainge wasn't always certain he wanted to go into the basketball business, but sitting on the team bus before what would be his last game at Brigham Young University in 2007, the issue forced itself.
Ainge had been quietly pondering the idea of extending his playing career overseas, but had also come to grips with the fact that he wasn't talented enough to play at a level that made the venture worthwhile. As the BYU bus started toward the airport in advance of an NCAA tournament first-round matchup against Xavier in Lexington, Kentucky, Ainge's cell phone rang with a job offer.
"A good friend of mine, Roger Reid, got a head-coaching job at Southern Utah and he called me and said, 'I want you to be my assistant coach,'" said Ainge. "That meant going right to a Division 1 assistant, and I had figured I’d have to be a video coordinator or something [to work up the coaching ladder]. So I told him, ‘Let me go see if I can win a game or two here in the NCAA tournament' -- we ended up losing right away -- and I accepted the job when we got back."
Ainge had been a political science major and jokes that he bamboozled his wife, who probably thought she was marrying a lawyer. Instead, Ainge soon found himself in Las Vegas scouting an AAU tournament as part of his new coaching gig -- this before he even took his last batch of finals and graduated from BYU.
Eight years later, Ainge carries the lofty title of director of player personnel for the Boston Celtics. Once a little leery of working under his father, Ainge has embraced being part of Boston's tight-knit front office helmed by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Austin Ainge's job centers on roster construction -- draft, trades, free agency -- but it's heavy on college/international scouting. And it's Austin Ainge who has the rather thankless task of organizing Boston's pre-draft workouts.
Over the past four weeks, Boston has hosted 54 players in 10 publicized group workouts (all while bringing in other individuals under the cloak of secrecy). Organizing these workouts is a nightmare, and Boston's sessions have featured a melting pot of basketball prospects, including a handful of international men of mystery and some stateside candidates who played outside the Division 1 spotlight. It's all part of a pre-draft evaluation process, one in which the Celtics aim to leave no stone unturned.
To the uneducated observer, there's a notion that 33-year-old Austin Ainge ascended to his front-office role because of his last name. No one in the Ainge family denies that familial ties helped open some doors, including Ainge's first gig at Southern Utah (Reid was an assistant coach at BYU when Danny Ainge played there, then Reid was an assistant on Danny Ainge's NBA coaching staff in Phoenix). But Danny Ainge is emphatic that his son has logged the necessary basketball hours.
"Listen, Austin got his first coaching job with Roger Reid because Roger knew him as a kid and loved him," said Danny Ainge. "Roger was one of the most intense, fiery personalities, and he loved Austin. I think he wanted Austin. Austin learned a lot at Southern Utah; he did a lot, he had a lot of responsibility."
And even before Austin Ainge became a coach, he was essentially an older, less cute Riley Curry.
"[Austin has] been around the game his whole life," said Danny Ainge. "Austin was in my coaches' meetings, Austin was on the court, he was in my huddles. He was tugging on my pant leg telling me what to do when I was a head coach in Phoenix. He’s been around it his whole life. Him and I have talked basketball -- I’ve talked more basketball with him than anybody else."
Austin Ainge had a notable playing career, starring for Highland High School in Gilbert, Arizona, while his father coached in Phoenix. He was a two-time captain at BYU and helped the Cougars to a pair of Mountain West Conference championships while contributing as a point guard.
After two seasons coaching at Southern Utah, Ainge joined the Celtics organization in a scouting role. Reluctant at first to work under his dad -- as Austin Ainge noted, "I was a little stubborn at first about not wanting to work for my dad, just kind of a pride thing; then I came to my senses because it was the best way for me to learn" -- he embraced the opportunity that allowed him to scout and assist with player development.
A year later, Austin Ainge was named the first head coach of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League.
"The opportunity for the D-League coach came up and my feeling is, at that time -- because we didn’t have this [affiliation] tie that we have now -- I wanted somebody I could trust [who] would do things the way we wanted them done," said Danny Ainge. "And I knew Austin was capable and it would be a great experience for him. Again, I wouldn’t do that if my son couldn’t do it. He was ready for it."
After two seasons in Maine, Austin Ainge figured coaching was still his future path, but a shift in the Celtics' front office presented an opportunity to return to Boston. With the chance to give his family -- wife Crystal, and sons Andre and Finley -- some stability, Austin Ainge shuffled into his current role.
Danny and Austin Ainge likely spent part of Father's Day prepping for this week's draft. They've both learned to savor the opportunity to work together.
"I think it’s great [working with Austin] and I love it," said Danny Ainge. "I anticipate some day he’ll probably go off and do something else. In the meantime, I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying my grandkids."
The elder Ainge believes his son would thrive if he elected to revisit his coaching roots. For his part, Austin Ainge is simply enjoying the current experience -- even all the headaches that come with organizing the workouts this time of year (and handling much of the media chores after the pre-draft visits).
"I love it here. My family loves it here," said Austin Ainge. "The ability to work for our ownership, my dad and [coach] Brad [Stevens] -- it’s the best combination in the league."