by Bryce Ronquillo
Seizing opportunities and making the most of them is what former East Los Angeles College Basketball player and coach Rex Kalamian has done to build a successful career in the NBA.
Kalamian has worked 23 years in the NBA, two as a scout and 21 as an assistant coach.
He currently is the assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors out of the Eastern Conference under Dwane Casey.
His coaching career in the NBA has lead Kalamian to work with teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers (scout), Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
His most successful years were with the Thunder, where he spent six seasons coaching under Scott Brooks. During his tenure, the Thunder never had a losing record, reached two Western Conference finals and made an NBA Finals appearance in 2012.
“Not only is he (Brooks) a great coach, he is a very good friend,” Kalamian said. “He is someone I have learned a tremendous amount from and we had a lot of success together,” Kalamian said.
While with the Thunder, Kalamian coached superstars such as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden.
“One of my favorites was James Harden. He was the one I spent the most time with during the season and the summer. We were always together,” Kalamian said. “Russell Westbrook was also someone I really enjoyed coaching because not only was he the biggest competitor I’ve been around, but he kept me sharp as a coach, challenging me to always be at the top of my game and prepared as well.”
Kalamian came from a humble upbringing. Born in Monterey Park, Kalamian’s parents divorced when he was still very young. His mother worked very hard to provide for him and his brother, Mitch. Kalamian attended local Schurr High School, but transferred to Mark Keppel High School where he graduated in 1986.
During his senior year, he averaged 18 points per game, which attracted attention from ELAC Men’s Basketball coach Jim McFarland. Kalamian’s freshman year, he averaged 14 points per game. He played at ELAC for the 1986 and the 1987 season.
“I really enjoyed (going to ELAC) because it gave me an opportunity to play. There were maybe other schools I could’ve gone to, but not have played right away,” Kalamian said. “ELAC gave me an opportunity to be a student and be on the team. It also gave my family a chance to come watch me.”
Kalamian graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a bachelor’s in business management. Kalamian started his coaching career at ELAC as a grad assistant under head coach Jorge Calienes in 1990. He spent two seasons with Calienes.
“I really enjoyed that first year as a grad-assistant. I knew I could possibly have a career coaching basketball. I didn’t know what level yet,” Kalamian said.
It didn’t take much time for Kalamian to figure out what level he wanted to work at. He reached out to the Clippers several times to see if there was a possible job opening for him. He called them so much that the secretaries knew him by name.
Eventually, there was an opening for him as an unpaid intern.
“With any type of internship you have to be aggressive, assertive and show the company that you are willing to do anything to learn and become better. That was my approach with the Clippers,” Kalamian said.
Kalamian spent two seasons as an intern. He said he would do jobs such as tape-recording late night games then driving the film to the coaches homes. In his third season there, Kalamian got a full-time job with the Clippers as a video coordinator and scout.
His hard work and the relationships he built with the Clippers did not go unnoticed. In Kalamian’s fourth season, Clippers head coach Bill Fitch made him an assistant coach for the 1995 season. Kalamian went on to spend eight years with the Clippers.
“(Fitch) taught me so much. I really learned the game under him, especially how hard you must work to be really good at this profession,” Kalamian said.
Despite living a life of constant travel while coaching one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Kalamian has not forgotten his roots. He grew to love basketball during his childhood living in Monterey Park.
“I was always looking for a game. Whether it was at the school playgrounds, a park or a local gym, I was always playing. I became a basketball junkie,” Kalamian said.
Kalamian’s ultimate goal is to be a head coach in the NBA. Even though he lacks NBA playing experience, he does not believe that affects him.
“I can make up for my lack of NBA playing experience by outworking everyone and being the most prepared,” Kalamian said. “One of the best coaches in the league, Gregg Popovich, never played in the NBA. I know that I am a good coach, a fair coach and I know that I help players develop.”
While at ELAC, Kalamian met his wife Patsy, who was the statistician for the basketball team.
They have been married 16 years and have two kids, Mason, 14, and Ella, 10. His family currently lives in Oklahoma City while he is in Toronto.
“The one downside of this job is that it takes away from family time,” Kalamian said.
Kalamian offers words of wisdom to his fellow Elans.
“It does not matter where you come from. What matters is how hard you work to get where you want to go. Regardless of the school you go to, you create your own success. It’s all about how much you are willing to sacrifice to learn and get better,” Kalamian said. “Who would have thought that somebody who played four years of high school basketball, two years of community college basketball and is from East Los Angeles College would have a 23-plus year career as an assistant coach in the NBA?”