By Jose Trujillo (@jAy_Ay_T):
It’s not common that a seven-year-old shapes the future of your life.
Usually that job is left for adults.
For San Jose State first-year men’s head basketball coach Jean Prioleau, that is exactly what happened.
“One of my friends, Michael Richardson, he was dribbling his basketball up the streets, bouncing it though his legs, and walked up, knocked on my house and asked if I wanted to play basketball,” Prioleau said. “I said yes, and the rest is history.”
Little did Richardson know he had just laid the foundation for Prioleau in what would turn out to be a brilliant basketball career that is still going.
At age 47, Prioleau’s accomplishments include a degree in physics from Fordham University, alongside a successful basketball career, where he is still ranked second in the school’s all-time lists for assists and steals. Twice he was named All-Patriot League second-team and ended his amateur career with 1,442 points, good for fifth all-time in school history.
Fordham is also where Prioleau was first encouraged to become a coach and it came from an unfamiliar place: the science department.
“My physics teacher Jay Mancini, he actually suggested that I should start coaching,” Prioleau said. “[I] never really had anyone tell me to get into coaching. It was the first real time anyone suggested that to me.”
Prioleau ran with Mancini’s words and in 2000, he landed his first coaching job as an assistant.
Guess where? Fordham University.
He went on to coach at Wichita State (2001-05), Marquette University (2006), Iowa State (2007-08) and TCU (2009-10) before settling at the University of Colorado for the past seven years , all stops as an assistant coach. In 18 years, Prioleau appeared in the postseason 11 times, once to the CBI and five times to the NIT and five times to the NCAA Tournament.
Players that have been under the tutorship of Prioleau include Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson, Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks and 2017 first-round pick for the San Antonio Spurs, guard Derrick White.
“He knows so much about the game and he’s a guy who taught me to play the game from the inside out to the perimeter,” Roberson said to SJSU athletics. “He has definitely played a role in where I am today with my game.”
Prioleau brings experience and a winning pedigree to San Jose State which finished 14-16 last season. He hopes to turn the program into a yearly contender for the Mountain West Conference, but knows it all starts with the team playing collectively.
“The biggest challenge is that only five guys can only play at a time, so how do you get them to play as a unit, and then to get all 13 guys to play as a unit,” Prioleau said, “Then how do you get all thirteen players to graduate?”
The first step to doing that is by building a cohesive group off the court.
“[The players need] to work hard every day, go to class every day, be on time, be a good citizen, be a good representative of our university, work as hard as you can and be accountable.” Prioleau said.
On the court, Prioleau wants the Spartans to be a team that spreads the ball around, wins the rebounding battle and dominates on defense.
“He wants us to focus on defense and rebounding first. That is what we will focus on every game throughout the season,” said SJSU junior forward Ryan Welage. “Offensively, he wants a lot of motion, not an isolation team, a lot of a ball movement and people movement, like the San Antonio Spurs.”
For the first-year Spartan Prioleau, it all starts when no one is watching.
“Emphasizing in practice boxing out, shot-challenging and rebounding, then pushing the ball up the court to get easy baskets,” Prioleau said.
The start of Prioleau’s first season as a head coach has been anything but easy.
Alongside a roster that includes only one senior, he must find a way to replace Brandon Clarke, the Spartans’ best player last season who transferred to Gonzaga.
These are circumstances that are sometimes unavoidable in college sports, but with years of coaching experience as an assistant, San Jose State should feel confident that Prioleau is ready for the task at hand.