Jacob Chance is one of Australia’s best young basketball minds.
Possessing a vast array of coaching experience as an assistant with the Perth Wildcats, Tasmania JackJumpers and currently with Melbourne United, he is one of the next NBL coaches in waiting.
His basketball journey wasn’t a linear path. While studying physiotherapy at the University of Notre Dame, his desire to work in basketball was always a goal. Having done a substantial amount of coaching with the Rockingham Flames, now NBL1 West, and working alongside Adam Forde instilled Chance’s motivation to forge a basketball coaching career.
By the final semester of his degree in August 2015, Chance sprung at the opportunity to apply for a volunteering/internship coaching position with one of Australia’s elite basketball clubs – the Perth Wildcats.
Not knowing what would happen, he took the first step of towards achieving his basketball ambitions.
“I knew Fordy (Adam Forde) a little bit and just reached out to him. I was just really fortunate,” Chance told The Inner Sanctum.
“The way those kinds of roles work is what you make of it and how much you can be around the inner sanctum. I didn’t have any kids at the time, I was 21-years-old, I just had to get through exams and then I was able to help out.
“It became a lot of focus then. To be honest, I thought the first year was going to be a one-and-done. But this was a cool experience. Win a Championship, do Mad Monday celebrations and enjoy and learn a little bit.”
In Chance’s first year, mentors, including Forde and current San Antonio Spurs assistant Matthew Nielsen, played a driving role in developing his coaching craft.
As he was living out his goal, Chance worked as a physiotherapist in the afternoons, juggling a hectic schedule. Initially, he believed he would only stay on for one year and then continue his chosen field in physiotherapy.
But things would change.
Forde, who always believed in Chance’s potential as a basketball coach, constantly spent time together alongside Nielsen in the office, sharing basketball wisdom. The current Taipans coach went down an identical path to Chance, forging his pathway as an unpaid video intern in 2011, before becoming an assistant coach under Trevor Gleeson in 2013.
The duo share a commonality: they didn’t play in the highest league, but their astute basketball knowledge was their valued strength.
“There was a clear runway there for someone like myself to come through if you’re able to dig in and go about your work in the manner,” Chance said.
“So I leaned on Forde a lot. I still do to this day.
“At the time, sharing an office with Matty Nielsen, triple-Olympian, has a big resume and was a great coach in his own right. We had similar pathways, which were much different to what Matty had.
“It was a process of grinding out through that first year. We went through the end of that first year, and I was with Fordy and Matt.
“That idea was floated that this could be something you could have a crack at.”
Chance’s dedication as an intern wouldn’t go unnoticed as then General Manager Nick Marvin promoted him to the payroll in 2016. When talking about the promotion, Chance is indebted to the work Forde and Nielsen instilled into him in achieving his goals. When asked about his continuous work ethic, Chance refers directly to Forde and how his relentless desire to improve every day is a driving factor for him.
At the same time, he admits his work ethic was not up to par early on until basketball came into his life.
“I had to tap into that and learn how to be efficient and learn how to get the balance with my personal life,” he said.
“I’ve carried that through [the rest of my journey]. I think the one thing, as I’m getting more experience in this league is people have different ways to work, and I’m more open to that.”
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In his eight years in the NBL, Chance has worked under Trevor Gleeson, Scott Roth and currently Dean Vickerman, some of the greatest coaches the league has seen. Combining for eight NBL Championships, all three coaches have identical coaching philosophies – a profound emphasis on defence and playing the right way.
Coaching is a constant obsession that wavers no boundaries in garnering the maximum potential from players and the coaching staff.
Attention to detail is paramount and Chance saw that firsthand in Gleeson.
“I was just blown away with his attention to detail and how strong he was in his philosophy,” he said.
“I thought it was really impressive and Trev’s a hard taskmaster. He really gives you clarity on what he expects from you and whatever role you’re in. I did six years with Trev and each of those years looked a little different. But in each of those years, I knew exactly what was required of me.”
As the 2019/2020 season approached, the Wildcats lost highly respected assistant Paul Woolpert, who had to return home for family reasons. His departure left Chance and Luke Brennan (current assistant coach at South East Melbourne Phoenix) to shoulder the assistant duties.
Then, one of Chance’s most instrumental coaching mentors came into the fold – Scott Roth.
A no-nonsense coach with an old-school mentality, Roth quickly became an integral component under Glesson, taking on the lead-assistant role.
Basketball has been a constant for Roth.
After playing four years at the University of Wisconsin, the San Antonio Spurs selected him 82nd overall in the 1985 NBA Draft. Once his professional playing career ended, he took on numerous assistant coaching positions. He first started coaching with the Dallas Mavericks from 1996 to 2000 under the legendary Don Nelson, before stops at the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and the Detroit Pistons.
He coached the Iowa Wolves – the Minnesota Timberwolves’ G-League affiliate team from 2017 to 2019.
Chance talks glowingly of Roth, reminiscing on the afternoons spent together in his office, along with Luke Brennan, talking about basketball nuances.
“Roth was great for me, and Luke. [We] were both pretty young and inexperienced. It was the first year since Nelly (Matt Nielsen) and Fordy left, so it was a bit of a clean-out of our coaching staff,” he said.
“I had a lot of internal pressure on myself to be there for the players, and we bought Luke Brennan up. So to have someone like Scott come in, he was great.”
Roth’s encyclopaedic basketball brain translated into the Wildcats winning a league-record 10th championship over the Sydney Kings in the 2020 NBL Grand Final series. As the year progressed, a new team was awaiting, the Tasmania JackJumpers.
The JackJumpers officially were officially granted a licence, joining the ever-expanding league. It had been 24 years since Tasmania had an NBL team.
With their approval, the team swiftly moved to find an experienced coach ahead of NBL22. On January 6, 2021, Roth was appointed as the JackJumpers coach. His appointment forced a difficult career decision for Chance.
Having been in the Wildcats’ inner sanctum since 2015, he contemplated making a significant move, but frequent conversations with Roth persuaded him to move out of his “comfort zone”.
“We were always in that mode, and he was pretty big on some point, I needed to leave Perth,” he said.
“I didn’t want to admit it because I grew up there and never wanted to leave. But, unfortunately, it’s [the] reality of our profession.
“I certainly wouldn’t be complaining if I did 20 years at the Wildcats. It would’ve been awesome, but I knew for the sake if I got a head coaching job somewhere else, someday I would have to get used to the idea of moving.”
His move across the border to Tasmania was a smooth transition.
He became Roth’s right-hand man, driving a determined resolve into a JackJumpers team led by Josh Magette, who surprised everyone by reaching the Grand Final series.
Chance continued to perfect his coaching craft until an opening for an assistant position with Melbourne United presented itself in February of this year. His coaching credentials have seen him take on another dream position of working with the Australian Boomers men’s team as a video coordinator at the recent FIBA World Cup held in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.
The United assistant pinches himself, talking about the role and working under Australian basketball mastermind Brian Goorjian.
“You don’t appreciate it until you sit back and talk about it like this,” he said.
“To go to a World Cup and represent your country and play a very small part in that was pretty awesome.”
As Chance continues to build an impeccable reputation, carving out a lengthy coaching resume, he comes to terms with a potential head coaching role in the NBL could be on the horizon. At just 30 years of age, his wealth of knowledge is gaining traction amongst the next list of coaching candidates.
He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration, with former two-time championship coach Chase Buford appointed at just 32. He also refers to Collingwood premiership coach Craig McRae, who served 15 seasons as an assistant coach from 2007 to 2021 before getting the Magpies coaching position for the 2022 season.
He understands it is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
“I’m fully aware that could come at any time, and it could come when you’re 32, it could come when you’re 50,” he said.
“But I’m just locked in on trying to work on my craft and hone in on my philosophy every day wherever I am. Whether I’m with United, JackJumpers, Wildcats, the Boomers or in the off-season doing some professional development, I just want to keep adding to it.
“When that time comes, I’m as prepared as possible. Who knows. I’ll be ready when it happens.”