Sandy Pyonin has coached many top NBA and college players throughout his career as an AAU coach of the NJ Roadrunners. The top player on his current team is 6’8″ small forward Tyler Roberson, who’s one of the most sought-after recruits for the 2013 class. Pyonin spoke to LBS recently and told us in an interview that he believes Roberson will eventually be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Pyonin knows what a No. 1 overall pick looks like at that age — he also coached Kyrie Irving, who was selected first overall by the Cavs in 2011.
“I think in Tyler Roberson I’m going to have the No. 1 (pick),” Pyonin told Larry Brown Sports. “I had Kyrie Irving who was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. I think Tyler Roberson will be right there when he’s ready to go.”
Roberson has narrowed his list to 10 schools and recently said he plans on visiting Kansas and Syracuse in the fall.
When asked to compare Roberson to an NBA player, Pyonin mentioned Kevin Durant.
As you can see in the photo above, Roberson has a similar build to Durant.
“Ultimately he wants his own style, but I guess he’s a little big like Kevin Durant,” Pyonin says. “He handles the ball exceptionally well, and his shot is really coming on strong. He’s got a 7’1″ wingspan and he runs the floor like a deer. He has the same body type as Durant.”
“He’s striving to be the No. 1 player in the country, so I’ve told him he has to play hard every time he steps onto the floor.”
Pyonin has coached or worked with 32 NBA players in his nearly 40 years of coaching. There are many recognizable names on the list — Irving, Al Harrington, Randy Foye, Dahntay Jones, Brevin Knight, Eric Williams, and former Duke stars Jay Williams and Bobby Hurley. How is he able to connect with such talented players?
“I work them hard, but I want them to have fun,” says Pyonin. “It’s important to have fun. If they’re not enjoying it, I can work them as hard as I want but they won’t get any results out of it. They’ve got to want it, and I’ve got to have the passion and energy.
“If they’re not working hard, I tell them go home, don’t be here.”
One of the pupils he enjoyed working with the most is Edgar Jones, who played six years in the NBA with four different teams. Jones was a former second-round pick by the Bucks in 1979, but he wanted to quit basketball after being cut by the team. Pyonin talked him out of quitting and was able to help get him into the NBA.
“When [Edgar Jones] got cut by the Milwaukee Bucks, I took him and I trained him everyday. When he got cut, he wanted to quit and go be a mailman. I brought him to a weight room and had been working him real hard. The minute I turned my back, Edgar left and walked back all the way from Cranford to Newark (an hour-long walk). His brother and sister wouldn’t talk to him until he apologized to me.
“Eventually I got him into the CBA and then a tryout with the Nets. He got a 10-day contract with them, and I told him he only had 10 days to show them what he could do. He said ‘I’m so much better than this guy.’ I said ‘well, if you don’t show them, you’re going to get cut.’
“He stayed with the Nets and had a great career in the NBA. He once had 10 blocked shots in an NBA game. Tremendous person and talent. If I had got him in 8th or 9th grade, he would have been one of the greats of all time. He was that athletic — about 6’10″. Spectacular.”
Last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year was Kyrie Irving, who played for Pyonin’s AAU team. Pyonin wasn’t at all surprised by Irving’s success; he believes the Cavs guard has an ideal work ethic.
“I think he’ll be an All-Star. He’s a special talent — his skills are unbelievable. Great kid. He has a great passion; he’ll just play, play, and play. He could play in a big game, and then an hour later go out with his friends and play another five games. He has that kind of energy and passion for the game. Just fantastic — I love those types of players.”
While many of his players have had strong NBA careers, two of his players were involved in motor incidents that hurt their careers — Bobby Hurley and Jay Williams.
“Bobby played with me in 8th grade. He’s not one of those players that you look at and say ‘he’s going to be an NBA player.’ He’s a guy that because of his parents had a high basketball I.Q. I saw his mother work with him on foul shots in the park, as well as his father. He was really just a student of the game, he had an uncanny sense and instincts on the court. He was a tremendous defensive player. He’s a great person and a special basketball player. He knew how to win.”
Jay Williams was a different story for Pyonin.
“J-Will didn’t play with me that much. He played in the Boston Shootout with me and got the MVP. Right off the bat, he wasn’t playing hard defense for me. He was playing token defense, so I took him out the first four minutes of the game and said ‘listen, if you don’t play real defense … don’t give me this token defense or you’re not playing.’ I put him back in and he ended up getting MVP and we won the championship.”
It’s pretty clear that Pyonin has a coaching strategy that works — he demands a full effort from his players.
“I don’t play any games when we go out on the court. On the court, it’s all business.”
That strategy coupled with much more has resulted in a successful coaching career. Pyonin has been so successful that Golda Och Academy/Solomon Schechter Day School will be dedicating its court in his honor on Sept. 9. Who will be speaking at the event on his behalf? One of his former players — Jazz guard Randy Foye, naturally.Google+