The sophomore guard grew up learning to shoot from the pros as he father was a longtime NBA coach and the final coach of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Granville Emerson still remembers the moment like it was yesterday.
The Seattle Prep boys basketball coach was living in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and his friend Elston Turner, an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, was in town for a game against the Clippers. The two had a custom of grabbing a meal when Turner was in town, so Emerson went to pick up his friend and was quickly ushered up to a room in the Marina del Rey Ritz-Carlton.
There, getting measured for an Italian shirt, was Blazers coach P.J. Carlesimo, who gave the man who would one day coach his son in high school a handshake, pat on the back and strong impression.
“I walked out of there going, ‘That P.J.’s a nice guy!’ ” Emerson said. “He didn’t know me from Adam. I’m just a guy. He was a warm and friendly, genuine type of person. Fast forward 20 years later, we both live in Seattle, and now I’m coaching his son! That’s crazy to me.”
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Kyle Carlesimo, a 6-foot guard, is one of four sophomores on a young Seattle Prep squad that’s attempting a return to the state tournament for a third consecutive season. The Panthers have finished the season at the Tacoma Dome six of the last eight years.
P.J. Carlesimo has a familiar last name for basketball fans in Seattle. He was the final coach in SuperSonics history during the 2007-08 season and was the first coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise before he was let go 13 games into the 2008-09 season.
P.J. Carlesimo admits his coaching history probably impacted his two sons’ decisions to play basketball. But he said that both showed a love of the game from an early age. Basketball is discussed quite a bit in the Carlesimo house, but mostly just as the family sits down to watch an NBA game where Kyle Carlesimo cheers on Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
“Both (Kyle) and our younger guy (Casey), they probably didn’t have any choice,” P.J. Carlesimo said. “I hoped they liked it, but they grew up with that. He learned to shoot watching Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry back in San Antonio (at practice) when he was little. … He’s been playing since he could walk. Or before he could walk.”
Added Kyle: “It was pretty set. But I love basketball. I couldn’t picture not playing.”
Emerson said Kyle Carlesimo has all the hallmarks of a coach’s son.
“Kyle is a basketball head. He grew up in basketball,” Emerson said. “I haven’t met that many basketball head coaches whose kids can’t shoot. Kyle can shoot. He can be a dynamic three-point shooter.”
Carlesimo, whose Seton Hall Pirates finished second at the 1989 NCAA tournament, which concluded in the Kingdome, spends his time as a broadcaster for ESPN. He has a home in Seattle with his wife Carolyn and two sons Kyle and Casey, 13. The elder Carlesimo tries to catch as many Seattle Prep games as he can.
P.J. Carlesimo was also the son of a coach and athletic director. He remembers his father taking a hands-off approach to his coaches, so he’s taking a similar mindset into Kyle’s first year on varsity with Seattle Prep.
“It’s totally different (of a role),” Carlesimo said. “I was kind of spoiled because I only coached in college and the NBA. I think one of the toughest things of coaching in high school, or even younger at AAU, it’s dealing with parents, frankly. I just try to stay out of it. I don’t think it’s easy. It’s harder to watch a game.
“Obviously, you pull for your son, and you want him to make good plays and make his shots and do well. … Parents just see things differently. You’re not supposed to see things rationally when it’s your son or your daughter. And most people don’t. I’m sure I don’t either.”
Emerson appreciates his fellow coach’s attitude.
“It’s not stressful at all,” Emerson said. “He is not like LeBron (James), standing on the sidelines barking out stuff to his kid or to the other players on the team. He’s just chill. He’s got a Seattle Prep baseball cap on, and he’s just watching the game.”
Like Kyle Carlesimo, Emerson is adapting to a new role. The Panthers’ coach is taking over for longtime Seattle Prep coach Mike Kelly, who announced after last season that he wanted to take a one-year sabbatical from the program after 14 seasons.
Kelly is slated to return next season, but in the meantime it’s up to Emerson to lead Seattle Prep through an always-difficult Metro schedule.
“First of all, coach Kelly is one of the best high-school coaches in the state,” Emerson said. “… I’ve had the blessing of being on his staff for the last eight years and have learned from him and the assistant coaches. So, what I’ve tried to do, is build on the culture that’s already established and try to put my stamp on this year’s particular team.”
The Panthers (8-4, 4-3 Metro) suffered some growing pains early with a three-game losing streak after a season-opening win over Cascade. Seattle Prep rolled off four consecutive wins before heading down to Oakland for the Damian Lillard Classic holiday tournament.
“We went through some adversity, had injuries, dropped some games that we could’ve won,” Kyle Carlesimo said, “but we’ve done a good job bouncing back.”
Nikola Trifunovic, a senior and the lone returning starter from last year, made his debut in a Dec. 21 win over Ballard. Trifunovic knows he and his fellow seniors are leading a different, younger team this year.
But it’s one he believes is up to the challenge.
“I’m proud of the way the guys have fought back,” Trifunovic said. “Last year they saw everything. They saw how the culture is at Prep and the way that we play. It’s a different team than last year but we’ve added a lot of new things that are really good.”
P.J. Carlesimo is excited to post up and watch some Metro League basketball this season. While he’ll obviously be pulling for the Panthers, Carlesimo has always been impressed by the level of play in the Seattle area.
And he, like many others in the region, looks forward to the return of the SuperSonics.
“I’ve told people, repeatedly, to me it’s the best high-school league in the country,” Carlesimo said. “There may be a year where some other league has a good league, but not year in and year out. … The coaching and players your exposed to here in this league is really special.”