Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Vin Bhavnani’s journey from an engineering student to becoming part of a professional coaching staff for an NBA team has been nothing short of surreal.

It all started with a dream and there’s been no looking back since, with Bhavnani now holding a vast experience of working with NBA teams for more than a decade.

Born and raised in the United States in a Sindhi family while his Indian parents hailed from Ahmedabad, Bhavnani majored in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California before he made up his mind to pursue coaching in basketball. He decided to take a leap of faith and worked his way up to the top through networking. This was after he had never played basketball for his school or university team.

“[The dream] came out in a dorm, or an apartment in college,” Bhavnani said in a video conference call on Tuesday. “It felt real and I just started pursuing it. I can’t explain it. There was one dream and I remember how I felt. I was focused and did whatever I felt it took to get there. I just followed that path, asked a lot of questions and put the work in. I was fortunate enough to get some key responses and just get my opportunity. I never played team sports, I just wanted to coach, I wanted to teach. I knew coaching was like any other teaching job at the time, that’s all it was.”

Reaching the top

After completing his engineering course, Bhavnani spent one season as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at Santa Monica Junior College.

Later on, an acquaintance from USC got him in touch with a scout working at Denver Nuggets, who helped Bhavnani strike an internship opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004. Bhavnani got the internship call on the same day when he had a chance to join another firm as a sales executive but he declined the offer to follow his purpose. The tough part about it was that Bhavnani went unpaid for three years at Clippers while working as an intern.

“It was an internship for about three years, there was no label, it was basically database entry into potential scouting,” Bhavnani recalled his days at Clippers as an intern.

“Back in the days of early 2000s, you didn’t have organised systems to get information. You’d need somebody to manually put in the information on each potential candidate, agent and various information – I was that guy. I wanted to get into coaching and videos so it took me about two-and-a-half years.”

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, who back then worked with Bhavnani at Clippers, then offered him an internship at San Antonio Spurs where he was as an assistant coach. In 2007, Bhavani was hired as the assistant video coordinator at Spurs and since then has worked as a scout, player development manager and as coaching assistant in the NBA.

Bhavani, a Los Angeles native, has spent the last four years at OKC Thunder as an assistant coach and was previously involved as advanced scouting and player development manager at the club.

Explaining his stint with the Thunder before he became an assistant coach, handling two different roles, Bhavnani said: “I was a video coordinator and had a good background in that which entailed breaking down film, studying opponents. The manager of advanced scouting was more towards opponent scouting, what do the teams run, how do we beat them, what’s the game plan, what’s their personnel like, who’s their best players, what are their tendencies, that kind of stuff.

“I would study all the teams in the league, have a hand in terms of how we would guard and play those guys. The player development has shifted towards that through the years that I’ve been in the league. That’s what the role is about, just getting them better. The scouting is more [centered] for the opponent in terms of learning their tendencies and providing feedback to the players.”

Bhavnani has spent the last four years at OKC Thunder as an assistant coach and was previously involved as advanced scouting and player development manager at the club. (Photo: Special arrangement)

‘Creating an edge’

Bhavnani worked with the Indian basketball team for a brief period in 2011, which was then coached by Kenny Natt alongside training players such as Amyjot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Satnam Singh and many others.

The OKC Thunder coach was surprised with the speed, physical attributes and natural skill for the game he noticed in few players. But for Indians to take it up a notch, Bhavnani says they need to “create an edge” with basketball even more accessible than before.

“To play in the NBA there’s a physical component there, there’s a talent level there. You might have the skills, but unfortunately, the physical [attributes] might not be there. Who am I to say that it’s not there but as coach, you’ve got to trust your their opinions when you play. If you’re part of a team, you need to give back. Are you a good teammate? Are you finding different ways to create an edge that give you value?

“..I think there are resources now. The NBA [India] Academy is there, so you have access and many opportunities.. There are different ways to reach there.”